Rooted in Rebirth: Kyle Abraham’s Reimagining of Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor
By Imani Nothando
Kyle Abraham's Requiem: Fire in the Air of the Earth premieres at Memorial Auditorium on December 4. Photo by Peter Hönnemann
In a brilliant collaborative feat, choreographer and MacArthur Fellow Kyle Abraham and groundbreaking producer, composer, and EDM artist Jlin breathe new life into Mozart’s Requiem in D minor. Requiem: Fire in the Air of the Earth, with the generous creative contributions of costume designer Giles Deacon, lighting and set designer Dan Scully, and ten dancers from Abraham’s company—A.I.M by Kyle Abraham—takes the stage in Memorial Auditorium on December 4. This piece joins the ranks of Abraham’s spiritually-rigorous repertory: works that poignantly move through themes of grief, turbulence, and rebirth.
For this piece in particular, the wellsprings of inspiration range from Greek mythology and the Roman goddess Minerva, to Egyptian gods and goddesses, Yoruba folktales, and the works of Octavia Butler. This vast array of muses are fragments of the much bigger world that Requiem submerges viewers in, a world that bends toward Afrofuturism.
“...yes, it is very Sun Ra,” Abraham explains, “in the same ways it’s Erykah Badu, and in part, Common’s Electric Circus.” At the same time, these inspirations are not to be seen as a limiting force or framework but rather a point from which Abraham and Jlin lift-off. This is an “empowering work to be seen and celebrated,” Abraham says, releasing preconception and embracing the alchemy that’s all the more possible in the unknown.
The seed of this project was planted when Jon Nakagawa of the Mostly Mozart festival challenged Abraham to create a piece set to one of Mozart’s works. “I was immediately drawn to the Requiem. Maybe because of my own temperament, and with it [Requiem] being Mozart’s last piece before his passing,” Abraham admits.
Mozart’s Requiem is a piece shrouded in much mystery, with a creation story that highlights the haunting aura of the piece. It was commissioned by Count Franz von Walsegg-Stuppach to commemorate the anniversary of the death of his wife, and to bolster his personal plagiaristic campaign to claim musical works as his own. Due to Mozart’s other compositional endeavors and declining health, it was unfinished at the time of his death. Its covert completion by a student of Mozart’s brings considerations of folklore, the tales told to fill the gaps between here and there, to the forefront.
Choroegrapher Kyle Abraham collaborated with EDM artist and composer Jlin who created an electronic score which she will perform live from an orchestra pit at the premiere. Photo of Kyle Abraham (left) courtesy of A.I.M by Kyle Abraham and photo of Jlin (right) by Madhumita Nandi
In Requiem: Fire in the Air of the Earth, Mozart’s Requiem has been given a new life, its solemn air of mystery both compounded and reenergized. With the work of the prolific producer and composer Jlin, it has been reimagined “the Jlin way.” There is something beyond words about this superposition, with the intuitive approach to its creation and its visceral effects speaking volumes.
“I started straight up dancing in my kitchen,” Abraham recounts of his first time listening to a particular track in Jlin’s renewed Requiem. “I thought, I’m going to save this one for me.” This solo is now embodied by one of A.I.M’s company members, but the sentiment surrounding Jlin’s genius remains.
Abraham and Jlin each share a reverence for each other’s work, and they both cited this great rapport as a conduit for ease throughout this process.
“Kyle’s such a gem to work with,” Jlin offers with an enthusiasm that painted a vivid picture of the resonance the two were able to build off of. This was invaluable while creating during the COVID-19 pandemic, which came with additional restrictions to be mindful of throughout the process. “COVID limited rehearsal, so everything was theory up until us being in the same room,” Jlin explains.
These artists have taken these challenges in stride, making magic in the spaces in between. Abraham also notes this push and pull of restriction and extension in regards to Dan Scully, Requiem’s lighting and set designer. Throughout the process, Abraham encouraged Scully to “think as expansive as he could,” and to be “as immersed in the world as he could be.” The two have faced limitations in the past around lighting and scenic design due to the pressures of accommodating different spaces, but this time has been different. “I’ve never seen him work like this. He’s really gone above and beyond,” Abraham shares.
Equipped even further with costumes fit for flight and expertly designed by Giles Deacon, Requiem: Fire in the Air of the Earth will be a sight to behold—a piece suspended in time.
The gifts of each artist meld together, pulling us into the present moment of Requiem so that its reverberations may send ripples through and beyond those who witness the work. Kyle Abraham’s A.I.M, Jlin, and this inventive creative team move boldly and truthfully in liminality so that we may dance and dream and birth ourselves into the future.
Imani Nothando is a writer, dancer, and musician based near Chicago. Her debut EP, nine, and her written works focus on themes of rememory, ancestral veneration, and Black peace.
Requiem: Fire in the Air of the Earth
A new work by Kyle Abraham and Jlin | A.I.M
Sat, December 4