Credit: Tim Barden

Hate is a powerful motivator for Kyle Abraham. And the New York-based choreographer doesn’t shy from putting it front and center in “When the Wolves Came In,” a trio of dances whose title refers to the 1960 protest album We Insist! Freedom Now Suite by jazz drummer and composer Max Roach and singer-songwriter Oscar Brown Jr.

Set to a score that ranges from Nico Muhly to spirituals and designed by artist Glenn Ligon, the striking work incorporates projections “of incidents that were racially charged, racially questionable,” says Vinson Fraley, a member of the choreographer’s company Abraham.In.Motion. “You have people in blackface, you have interesting things happening visually,” Fraley says. “The images are so vivid, so strong you can’t not have a reaction to them.”

Reaction seems to be the point. One of the questions Abraham grapples with in Wolves is the progress—or lack thereof—of civil rights in the time of Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin, Laquan McDonald, and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“People ask how much of the work has to do with what happened a long time ago, back in the civil rights movement,” Fraley says. “I think what we’re trying to get across is that these things are happening today, right now. They’re happening in a lot of ways, we just don’t see it.” 

Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion: “When the Wolves Came In” 4/28-5/1: Thu-Sat 7:30 PM, Sun 3 PM, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, 220 E. Chicago, 312-280-2660,, $30.