1/18/23 O&A NYC REVIEW: Ronald K. Brown/Evidence

By Walter Rutledge

Ronald K. Brown/Evidence began its New York season at the Joyce Theater on Tuesday January 17 and runs through Sunday, January 22. The six-day, seven performance offering presents three ensemble works spanning twenty-four years of Brown’s artistry. The season provides an insight into the thirty-eight-year journey of Brown and Evidence.

The evening opened with Open Door (2015) performed to the live music by The Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble. Brown’s use of more diverse movement and movement styles made it the most satisfying dance of the evening. To illustrate, the African influence on Latin/Caribbean life, music and dance, Brown blended African, Latin vernacular/social dance styles and modern contemporary movement. This amalgam produced a work that was both entertaining and informative.

The live accompaniment of The Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble produced a spontaneity that buoyed the work. It also gave life to Latin music legends Tito Puente, Luis Demetrio and Arturo O’Farrill compositions that recorded music cannot duplicate. It also seemed to give the dancers and audience a renewed energy, with a feel that dance was the primary media with all other elements (lighting, costumes, music) supportive.

Open Door began with a female solo performed by Shaylin D. Watson. This initial movement statement immediately established Brown’s finite movement vocabulary and choreographic style. Throughout the work, and the entire evening, Brown relied on four choreographic devices unison, cannon, repetition and theme and variation.

These devices became increasingly more evident in the ensemble sections of all the works presented. Solo dancers would enter four to eight counts behind each other repeating the movement pattern of the previous dancers. When the sections had amassed enough bodies, the movement would explode into unison. Movements and patterns from early sections were often reintroduced usually by a new group of movers creating a form of theme and variation, but the reintroduction never rose to the level of theme and development.

Open Door ended with a rousing celebration featuring a myriad of Latin street dance styles. For a moment it reminded me of a Spanish Harlem block party. Swirling hips, undulating torso and tight foot work brought the work to a fun finale with the dancers dancing off stage left.

The Equality of Night and Day (2022) was the evening’s “message piece” with original music by Jason Moran and featuring speeches by civil rights activist Angela Davis. This work also opened with a female solo to introduce the largely ensemble work. Here undulating torsos and hips were replaced by austere stillness and simple walking patterns. Again, Brown exercised choreographic discipline by limiting his movement and pattern vocabulary.

The most memorable section consisted of the ensemble forming a slow-moving circle with dancers taking turns in the center. The section vacillated between a sober Juba dance to a revolving dance confessional. The contrast between the solemn circle and the impassioned center dancer created effective visual counterpoint. As in Open Door the finale built to a music and movement crescendo that culminated with the dancers meagering off stage left.

Grace (1999) was a fitting closer, although this performance seemed to be not up to level of past productions. The work also began with a female solo and ended with the ensemble exiting to the final notes of the music. Brown’s finite yet distinctive movement and choreographic vocabulary worked in his favor in this work. Here he was able to construct gestural movements that easily transferred, creating a very clever and intimate conversation with the audience.

Brown’s choreographic prowess does not consist in his ability to produce large amounts of extemporaneous movement, or a stage cluttered with movement for the sake of movement. His thoughtful approach produces art that is never overpowered by the unnecessary or ornate. In this instance it was too much of a good thing. This seasons’ program needed more diversity.

From his vast repertoire spanning almost four decades Brown should have presented works that did not all begin and end with the same energy.  Works like Open Door and Grace, which were both choreographed for the Ailey Company, have amazing luster and audience appeal. Especially when part of an evening of repertoire works by other choreographers. The hardest task for a dance maker presenting a solo concert is to establish their style while avoiding too much repetition. Repetition of themes, movement, music, and energy are the death knell to any choreographer’s solo evening.

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