A love letter to all: ‘An Untitled Love’

Three people pose on ground.
A.I.M, a New York-based contemporary dance group created by Claude and Alfred Mann Endowed Professor of Dance Kyle Abraham, performed their renowned dance, “An United Love,” for Valentine’s Day Week at USC. (Courtesy A.I.M)

A.I.M by Kyle Abraham, a New York-based contemporary dance group, brought their renowned performance, “An Untitled Love,” to USC Wednesday night. With both strength and gentility, their dance represented the intensity, vulnerability and endurance of love. 

Catherine Kirk started her journey with A.I.M as a part-time dancer and performer in 2013. One year later, she joined A.I.M’s Dancer Development Program, which offered dancers to “learn more about behind-the-scenes work and administration.” Since then, she began to experiment with administration and marketing at Abraham’s company. 

“The work was relatively organic,” Kirk said. “Over the years, I’ve kind of transitioned in and out as I become more committed and busier as my role as a dancer.”

Managing A.I.M on Instagram and other external communications, Kirk soon discovered both a sense of audience and, more importantly, A.I.M’s voice among all the performers and art groups online. As she became more experienced, her role as a communicator extended beyond bodily movements to the digital landscape. Navigating a personal life, a dancer’s life, as well as a marketer’s life, Kirk expressed the core of all such disciplines lies in expression. Through dance, she enlivens the freedom to express herself, feel others and love.

For Martell Ruffin, the lead dancer of “An Untitled Love,” joining Kyle Abraham’s A.I.M was a surreal experience.  

“[My interview] was on the phone and it was with Catherine Kirk, and it was very much an improv freestyle dialogue,” Ruffin said.

In vivid details and with delight, Ruffin reflected on his journey to A.I.M. Prior to onboarding, he took on commercials, theatrical roles, choreographers and various freelancing roles. Joining Abraham and his firm has given Ruffin many valuable opportunities to grow as a dancer, choreographer and performer in a team.

 Kirk and Ruffin both remarked that performing at A.I.M is anchored in organic collaboration. Each one can participate in the artistic development, from creative inception to the final performance. Working with the costume designer, producer manager, artistic director and general manager, as well as the PR, marketing and development teams, Kirk specifically underscored the growing nature of A.I.M since she joined the team 10 years ago.

Transitioning through the pandemic phase, A.I.M has traveled and performed at many cross-country venues, including USC’s own Bovard Auditorium. Their last appearance at USC was their 2022 winter intensive program at Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, where Abraham and his company showcased a variety of artistic voices. Throughout this five-day program, students, aspiring dancers and professional dancers alike joined in this conversation of artistic creation.

One participant of the A.I.M winter intensive program is Hayden Rivas, a student pursuing a Master of Studies in law and a B.F.A. in dance. Rivas has shadowed Abraham personally and participated in the program for two years. He was still impressed when Abraham offered him free access to the program and considered applicants by asking how their choreographic voices had shifted throughout the last year. Rather than the technicality of skills, Abraham shows interest in individuals, as seen through the ongoing collaborative process of the creation of “An Untitled Love,” where he asked each dance crew to contribute and create together. A.I.M is a Black-owned company that advocates for Black lives, it is this dedication to inclusivity that has inspired Rivas to further pursue multidisciplinary studies to “tell stories that are personal and tell stories that are vulnerable because that’s the power of art.”

In addition to their artistic journey as performers, balancing work and life also presents considerable challenges for touring performers like Kirk and Ruffin. Due to the pandemic, taking care of one’s own physical and mental wellbeing has received tremendous amounts of attention. For both, the toll falls on their shoulders to navigate and manage. Kirk commented on how tours and work might be heavy, yet the motivation for expression and the delight for artistic creation hold them close and lead them on.

“A.I.M for Change” is a social justice initiative that offers resources and support for Black lives in areas including mental health, anti-racism, relief grants and more started in 2020 to “look for more activation in action,” Kirk said.

She also commented that the role of reflection was central to how life, art, and justice can be intertwined. 

“One of the things I loved early in watching dance was how much I learned about myself. The prejudices I have, the beliefs I have,” Kirk said. “I had to realize that that’s my own projection of life and reality.”

“The audience member has to decide for themselves what that piece means for them, even if they’re wondering what it means for us or what it meant to Kyle,” Kirk said. “You’re gonna walk away with your own perspective kind of portrayed back at you.”