Last spring, a video of an elderly man named Henry made the social media rounds. Living in a nursing home, one minute Henry is virtually unable to communicate with the world around him, and the next—after getting a dose of the music of his youth through a pair of headphones—he’s singing and dancing along, able to convey memories from his past and complex ideas about the beauty of music. The video was so compelling because such a beautiful, small gesture created such a drastic change, and because we’ve all experienced some much more modest version of that—the transformative effects of a favourite song.
The Radio Show, which kicked off World Stage’s 2014 season Wednesday night, works with a similar idea. Choreographer (and recent MacArthur fellow) Kyle Abraham was inspired to create the show after two events: the only urban radio station in his hometown of Pittsburgh went off the air in 2009, and Alzheimer’s took away his father’s ability to communicate. The Radio Show is a celebration of the radio as a way to engage with popular music, discuss issues both weighty and mundane, and perhaps most importantly, create both individual memories and shared experiences that persist even after a station’s off the air.
The Radio Show is divided into three parts. In the prologue—called, fittingly, a preshow—we see a young man jive to a Motown song until the stations begin to switch, altering his movements and energy level, until he’s bent and slow. Was he really that young man at the start, or did the song transform him as it did Henry?
Abraham uses the following two parts, named after Pittsburgh sister stations “AM 860″ and “106.7 FMx,” to explore the changes in popular music from Al Green to Beyonce, and delve into issues of race, love and sexuality, politics, and equality. In addition to the sequences choreographed to actual songs, the show also uses static noises—the kind you get in between clear radio signals–and other bits of white noise, and those sounds are layered into their own unusual melodies. During those choreographed moments, the dance is less explicitly about the radio stations, and more about personal stories; in those sequences, Abraham and his masterfully athletic and gentle dancers (Sochi, eat your heart out) get real, honest, and deep. These are the memories that remain after the radio stations are gone, or the Top 40 hit fades away.
The Radio Show is a time-capsule meets memoir meets nightclub—with a Genius grant’s insight. It’s a delicious mix of high and low art, with humour and grace and sadness, a heartbreaking sequence to a cover of “Crazy in Love” by Antony and the Johnsons, and a killer finale to one-hit wonder Tweet’s iconic “Oops (Oh My).” You can’t go wrong.