Ronald K. Brown has been in the dance making biz since the age of 19,years later he is still at it. He founded his company, EVIDENCE, in 1985 .In my life, as a young sponge of a dancer, I’ve had the pleasure of crossing his path at workshops and summer intensives such as the American Dance Festival (ADF) in Raleigh, NC. His challenging class and warm nurturing personality has dancers from all over the world waiting in line to study with him. It’s an experience that changes a dancer and contributes to the maturity of one’s technique.
Brown’s work incorporates a lexicon of traditional dances from all over the world. His work borrows from, West Africa and the Caribbean and mixes it with contemporary urban movement. He choreographs numerous works for EVIDENCE, but is also commissioned for other companies such as Alvin Ailey, Philadanco, ADF and the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. Brown has received many awards for his work, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Bessie, a Black Theater Alliance Award, and an Audelco Award.
November 19th I headed down to Georgia State University’s Rialto Theater, for a much-anticipated performance. An enjoyable pre-show by Atlanta’s Drew Charter School started at 7 pm. Students from 4th to 8th grade, under the direction of Tamara Harris, gave us delicious little tastes of dance from traditional African choreography with live drumming to more modern work inspired by the music of Stevie Wonder. This was a nice appetizer to what was to come.
The main attraction was exactly as described. The first piece, Ife/ My Heart (2005), gave a sense of community. The dancers were decked in white but the costumes were different suggesting that they represented various ages, experiences and cultures. Brown, who joins his company on stage, seemed to be portraying an elder in a West African village. The movement goes from a traditional arabesque to a full body scoop and drop – the dancers reach and turn their knees in on a ratchet sound.
The highlight of the night was the first part of the second dance, Incidents (1998). This piece, an excerpt from a full length work, was by far the finest storytelling of the evening. Four women occupy the space, three in tableaux while the fourth danced an emotional solo about the elements that have formed the character of African women today. The picture of the trio moved very slowly, almost Butoh-esque, depicting the nurturing act of bathing a child. The soloist dances as a satellite around the image moving in and out of a tortured shaking finger to confidently sitting sassily in her hip.
The newest piece of the evening, On Earth Together (2011), again was about community, but had an almost club feel to it. The first part is long cannon introducing each dancer one by one, until all eight are present and accounted for. Through the poignant lyrics of Stevie Wonder the piece conveys the feeling of wanting to make the world a better place, with lots of unity, dancing together and simple phrase manipulation.
Brown has an unusual musicality and works with complicated rhythms as in African tradition but it all seems to just flow like water. He uses a lot of unison – groups of people doing the same choreography at the same time. This can be a powerful tool when used sparingly but Brown is a little heavy-handed. The most striking moments in the show were when soloists took the stage. Throughout the evening there were lots of good ideas, messages and some excellent dancing but the dynamics just weren’t there. There weren’t enough highs and lows to keep me at the edge of my seat. The overall tone of the performance was extraordinarily mellow.