Fathers figure: Andrew Pearson's 'Abbale'

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday June 6, 2023
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Dancer-choreographer Andrew Pearson in 'Abbale'
Dancer-choreographer Andrew Pearson in 'Abbale'

The word 'abbale' is the Hebrew word for father. It's a word that means a lot to dancer-choreographer Andrew Pearson. His show, titled "Abbale," will be performing at the ODC Theater June 15-18. Pearson describes the show as a dance-theater memoir piece that intersects his relationship with his older boyfriend and their relationships with their fathers.

Pearson has always been a dancer. He has home video footage of himself performing for his parents at the tender ages of two and three, although it wasn't until later that he realized that dance was something he could study. In middle school he told his parents that he didn't want to do sports anymore. They insisted that he find something that could keep him active.

"I had just met this boy who was taking break dancing lessons," Pearson recalled in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter. "He suggested that I try hip hop classes. My only real exposure to dance at the time was music videos. This was around the time that Britney Spears was coming onto the scene, so that's the kind of dance I wanted to do. It's the kind of dance that was cool for boys."

Dance remained a part of Pearson's life. He was a dance major at UC Irvine, then worked with LA Contemporary Dance Company while in his twenties. He has since done a great deal of theater work, appearing in musicals, opera, and in avant-garde theater. He spoke of being in a show called "Young Caesar."

"We staged a big gay orgy at the Walt Disney Concert Hall stage with projections of penises flying by," Pearson said. "I got to portray the physical embodiment of Caesar, like an extension of the singer who played him. I've also done a number of museum installations. I got to work with French visual artist Julien Previeux when he was in residence in Los Angeles, which led to a number of international engagements."

Pearson is excited to bring "Abbale" to San Francisco. It's a show he's already done in Los Angeles to great acclaim. Audiences will get to know a great deal about Pearson and Asaf, his boyfriend. He and Asaf had very different childhoods. Pearson is American, while Asaf was born and raised in Israel to a quadriplegic father. But despite the differences in their upbringings, both men have an enormous amount of love and gratitude towards their fathers.

Dancer-choreographer Andrew Pearson in 'Abbale'  

Daddy issues
"Being in an intergenerational relationship, I wanted to create something that poked at our ideas around daddy issues," he said. "To kind of complicate and destigmatize older men dating younger men, or younger men pursuing older men. I also wanted to depict gay sons and their fathers in a more positive light than we typically see in art and media. Also, both Asaf and I wanted to create love letters to our fathers."

Asaf was very involved in creating the show. He provided his own stories and memories, and in a way he helped to choreograph some of the sections about him and his dad.

"I'd ask, 'What's a good gesture for Tel Aviv or Passover,'" Pearson explained. "He'd think about it and then do a move and I'd put it in. He's not a dancer but he is a storyteller. He works in film and television. So he also created all the video work in the show."

"Abbale" is about half monologue and half contemporary dance, or physical theater, with a lot of the dance set to recorded text. They use three different storytelling styles to delineate the different relationships in the show.

"For example, Asaf's story is like an audiobook with me dancing along," Pearson said. "When the music comes in, I enter a kind of dream ballet state where all three relationships co-exist."

According to Pearson, the biggest challenge in marketing a show like this is being an independent emerging artist. He got a lot of support from his collaborators like Asaf and director Lisa Owaki Bierman. But for the most part Pearson is wearing all the hats: writer, choreographer, performer, producer, as well as marketing the show.

"I think the one person show can also get kind of a bad rap, especially if it's self produced," he said. "There's a worry that it's going to be really self-indulgent. But that's why I had Lisa. She really made sure that we weren't just making something for me the artist, but for audiences as well."

Pearson feels that he's bringing the show to San Francisco at the best time.

"I'm performing on Father's Day weekend during Pride Month," he said. "When else would you get to see a performance so perfectly themed?"

Andrew Pearson's 'Abbale, a dance theater memoir,' June 15, 7:30pm, June 16 & 17, 8pm, June 18, 2pm. ODC Theater, 3153 17th Street. $15-40. www.odc.dance www.bodiesinplay.com

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