By Walter Rutledge
Ronald K. Brown /Evidence presented their 2024 New York season January 16 through 21 at the Joyce Theater. The nine-member ensemble offered two works Walking Out the Dark (2001) and Torch (2012). The program provided an overview of the range and diversity of choreographer Brown and his company in what is best described as an American artist’s declaration of his diasporic roots.
As the lights dimmed to darkness spoken word accompanied by the sound of a solo drum played by Abou Camara filled the darkness. Four shafts of light defining the corners of a square sequestered in the center of the stage. Dancers Stephanie Chronopoulos, Austin Warren Coates, Valeriane Louisy and Shaylin D. Watson each occupied a shaft of light and called the ritual to order.
True to Ronald K. Brown’s now signature style, the choreographer created a finite movement vocabulary. For Brown this helped to quickly established a conversation between the performers which transcended to the audience. Through a series of solos, duets, trios and quartet movements Brown’s dance vocabulary created a coherent work that was part ritual, part ceremony, part modern dance and a hundred per cent Ronald K. Brown.
Walking Out the Dark could have been a full evening’s work. The rhythmic largo tempo score and chants kept the first third of the work at a subdued pace. While defining the mood the length of the section detracted from the overall power of the work, at times changing the ceremony into a dirge.
The work suffered from technical issues in the form of long pauses between sections. The blackouts created at least three false endings confusing the audience and completely obliterating the works dramatic pacing. A drum solo by Camara followed the main section, but throughout his virtuosity I wondered how much more powerful this would have been performed as the prelude or opening movement.
Associate Artistic Director Arcell Cabuag performed an inspiring solo to Camara’s onstage drumming that was filled with thirty-nine years of Evidence’s nuanced movement vocabulary. After another long, pace killing pause the work culminated with a more up-tempo ensemble finale/coda ending. By now the audience had become applause leery and waited for the bow lights to truly acknowledge the performance.
If Walking Out the Dark is a ceremony, then Torch (2012) is a celebration! This work captures one of Brown’s most successful dance devices: moving to music set between 120 and 130 bpm (beats per minute). The work moved with a delightful African/ contemporary/ club blend of pure dance.
This seduced the audience and had people clapping along with the infectious rhythm. Guest artist Valeriane Louisy was a “bright light” throughout, her natural smile and effervescent approach put the joy in joyous. This work was extremely focused and succinct, the perfect high energy finale.
The New York season of Ronald K. Brown/Evidence offered a retrospective of the company’s thirty-nine-year contribution to dance. Of course, Brown’s repertoire consists of many unique offerings that a mere five-day season couldn’t hope to share. This is why next year, the company’s fortieth anniversary, is already building anticipation.