By Walter Rutledge
The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater company premiere of Camille A. Brown’s City Of Rain took place on Tuesday, December 17. The ensemble work for ten dancers was originally choreographed in 2010 for her own company Camille A. Brown & Dancers. This rendering is more a reimagining than a reconstruction; and Brown takes this opportunity to retool the work to reflect her present esthetic. Unlike her earlier two offerings for the Ailey repertoire, The Evolution of a Secured Feminine (2007, AAADT company premiere 2010), The Groove To Nobody’s Business (2007) and her 2014 Bessie Award winning (Outstanding Production) Mr. TOL. E. RAncE, this revived work is less storyline driven dance theatre and more a movement dominated abstract narrative.
City of Rain is dedicated to Greg “Blyes” Boomer, Brown’s friend who died from a debilitating illness. Boomer kept the details of his situation private, and as he became more incapacitated friends were unable to effectively intercede on his behalf. Choreographer Brown has approached the work from a place of reflection, reverence and respect creating a fitting dance elegy for Boomer.
Brown’s signature style has become as recognizable and individual as a visual artist’s brushstrokes. City of Rain Brown emphasizes her keen and developed understanding of spatial design and strong choreographic form. The work is a barometer to Brown’s growth as a dance maker, storyteller and activists.
From the opening Brown’s subtle use of spatial design came to the forefront. Dancers Jeroboam Bozeman, Patrick Coker, Solomon Dumas and Yannick LeBrun flacked each other center stage in a spatially balanced four cornered circle. Coker broke the harmonious stillness with a solo filled with an uneasy sense of foreboding, which was amplified in the proceeding solo by Dumas.
Brown divided the quartet into two groups. Each coupling (one downstage the other upstage) moved with a slightly different time signature and punctuation. The dichotomy introduced one of her signature movement elements; the use of polyrhythms based on principles prevalent in sub-Saharan African music and dance. German dance pioneer Mary Wigman explored this device in the early part of the 20th century.
Her diasporic use of multiple rhythmic movement patterns simultaneously has become a Brown trademarks. When six female dancers (Belen Indhira Pereyra, Jacquelin Harris, Courtney Celeste Spears, Jacqueline Green, Jessica Amber Picknett, and Danica Paulos) entered a harmonious chorus of movement engulfed the stage in a rich polyrhythmic visual tapestry. Her ability to incorporate syncopated rhythms through foot stomps and clapping intensified the polyrhythmic experience.
In City Of Rain she fearlessly attacked Two Way Dream, composer Jonathan Melville Pratt’s original melodic music score. Here Brown was able to create her own music/movement addendum- a dance driven visual “choreo-chorus”. Unison brought the work to a collective conclusion. Brown manipulated the use of level throughout; which helped to delineate the work’s visual focal point.
Here, the group danced in a slightly crouched position as a single dancer would rise up and move against the tide; then disappear back into the linear river of movement, while another artist emerged to take her place. Finally, the entire group capitulated to the unison and as the lights and sound faded the dancers began to melt into the floors. It was as if they had reached the final level of dealing with death… acceptance.
Reimaging a former work doesn’t always result in recreating the original emotional intent and public reaction. In City Of Rain Brown was able to use her present day prospective to reach forward to revisit the past. The one consideration that might enhanced the audience’s experience would be the addition of program notes.
This is the last week to see the New York City Center fall season of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. There are two more opportunities to see Camille A. Brown’s City Of Rain, Wednesday, January 1 at 7:30pm and Sunday, January 5 at 3pm. For tickets and schedule information visit ailey.org.
Photographs of City of Rain cast by Paul Kolnik