Ronald K Brown and Evidence, A Dance Company presented their 2015 New York City season February 24 through March 1 at the Joyce Theater. To celebrate the 30th anniversary the company offered two programs, a total of seven works. The season was a joyous retrospective of Brown’s artistry.
Brown’s signature choreographic style is a combination of West African, urban vernacular, and contemporary modern dance. The one thing that became quickly apparent is Brown’s finite movement vocabulary. Almost every work featured stag jumps en tourant, passé in parallel, turned out or ouvert, petite allegro that consolidated all the styles, walking that varied from pedestrian crossings to spirited struts and open West African inspired port de bras.
The collection of dances reminded me of a Jackson Pollack exhibition. At first glance the similarities outweighed the differences, but the longer you experienced the work the more the textural nuances began to emerge. The vocabulary allowed Brown to communicate to the audience through his own dance language, but more important the movement became secondary to his choreographic structure.
The works presented ranged from 1995 when his style became salient to 2014. Instead of producing a new work(s) Brown wisely chose to concentrate on material that had been properly developed. This provided the audience with a clean and concise overview of the evolution of both Brown and the company.
The season opened with The Subtle One (2014) featuring live accompaniment by composer Jason Moran and the Bandwagon. The works amalgam of styles captured the feeling of Moran’s jazz composition. Brown created a visual rendering of the music, which also was a western art form with African roots.
Excerpts from Lessons: Exotica & March (1995) were two excerpts- a duet and ensemble section. The first movement was set to a speech by Martin Luther King Jr. and performed by Annique Roberts and Coral Dolphin. The duet was the most theatrical of all the works presented during the season. Roberts circled a more stationary and centered Dolphin in a protective orbit. The partnering developed into supportive solidarity, and empowerment.
Dolphin has a quality that transcends technique. Her presence and attack was a combination of amazon power and female fatale attraction. Throughout the entire evening she was able to make you look at her.
The transition from the inviting abstract narrative first section to the pure movement second excerpt was a little jarring. The second section was an early rendering of Brown’s pairing of house infused music with movement. It is amazing how well his vocabulary works at 130 plus beat per minute. The ensemble section contained small groups moving simultaneously and overlapping. This allowed Brown to create a rich tapestry with a focused multiplicity of rhythms.
Grace and Gateway were both choreographed in 1999 for other companies. Gateway choreographed for Philadanco, took the audience on an impassioned excursion. Set on the road to heaven; if this is any indication of what to expect from eternality don’t worry about hot sauce, the “here after” will be a very soulful place.
Grace, designed for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, also has an ethereal feeling. The reconstruction of this work was not as successful as Gateway and was probably the weakest link of all the works presented. Clarice Young carried the lead well, this role has become synonymous with two dance Goddesses Renee Robinson (Hera) and Linda Celeste Sims (Aphrodite). The individual performances were all good and the female ensemble delivered an impressive interpretation. The male ensemble, however, lacked the verve and unison required to do this work justice.
The two solos presented Through Time and Culture (2014) and One Shot (2007, excerpt from Bellows) were both engaging works with different prospective. In Through Time and Culture Brown danced with a ceremonial spirit, as if he was giving thanks. With arms reaching upward and tight yet light footwork we followed Brown until he disappeared into the wings.
Shayla Caldwell entered the space walking backwards around the parameter of the space. First from stage left to right, then from upstage to downstage, she turns and continues stage right to left. When she walked upstage her body and face were finally revealed. Her movement was introverted and contained. Eventually she moves to center stage; and throughout the solo Caldwell remained regal but vulnerable. Drawing the audience to her until she is finally covered in darkness.
Why You Follow/Por Que Signes, created in 2014 for MalPaso Dance Company, is a testament to Brown’s choreographic and structural prowess. The work is imagery and texturally rich. The subtle transitions, group development, and musicality created true visual excitement. The most commendable quality was the ease Brown was able to build the work into a movement crescendo through the choreographic structure instead of relying on the performer’s bravura.
The Ronald K. Brown and Evidence, A Dance Company 2015 New York City season was a fitting celebration. The company continues to do what it has done for 30 years, to share the gift of dance. This milestone is just one more in a long line of accomplishments; and one thing we do know that the future holds for Brown and the Company is that they will keep making dances.