By Walter Rutledge
Camille A. Brown & Dancers opened the 2015 fall Joyce Theater season on Tuesday, September 22 with BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play. Inspired by Kyra D. Gaunt’s book, The Games Black Girls Play Choreographer/director Brown describes the one-act evening’s length, “BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play celebrates the unspoken rhythm and language that Black girls have through Double Dutch, social dances, and hand clapping games that are contemporary and ancestral.” The six member all female cast accomplished Brown’s vision through of series of three duets each exploring different aspects of life and society.
The simple but effective set by Elizabeth C. Nelson consisted of black square and rectangular platforms of varying sizes and heights, starting with the lowest downstage right to the tallest upstage left. A blackboard wall covered in chalk written graffiti behind the tallest platform created an entirely different environment than the rest of the stage. The Mylar mirrors placed above the stage gave the audience a view of the top of the platforms, adding another visual perceptive. Burke Wilmore’s lighting effectively defined the spacial boundaries and created subtle mood changes.
The work began with an Electric Bass musical interlude by co-composer Tracy Wormworth. Captured on an upstage platform in a down spot of warm light (that highlighted her well-defined deltiods), Wormworth played with a cool economy of movement. Pianist and co-composer Scott Patterson occupied the upstage space between the platforms and the bare brick back wall of the theater.
Brown appeared from the darkness drawing with chalk on the blackboard wall. She immediately established the movement vocabulary for the work, which began with fluid upper body gestures and later migrated down her body transitioning into audible tap-like foot rhythms. Throughout the solo Brown exuded a warm, engaging and focused stage presence. Her movements punctuated with facial expressions, gestures and stillness communicated and endeared her to the audience. Her natural affinity for the stage made this opening movement feel more like a dance declaration than a mere opening solo.
Catherine Foster joined Brown onstage and the ensuing interplay resembled two young girls having innocent, pre-pubescent fun. Peppered with a double dose of urban sass the two reminisced Double Dutch and vernacular dance steps. An intricate dialog derived from foot taps and related rhythmic patterns, accented by clapping, continued to demonstrate Brown’s strong structural use of theme and development.
Fana Fraser and Beatrice Capote portrayed slightly older characters. Seated on the top platform with their legs dangling over the edge, the two conjured images of bored teenagers channel surfing. This relationship was confrontational, with Fraser physically pinning a passive Capote against the blackboard wall. Brown contained the action to the top platform, which gave the section an intimate feeling and a clear visual focal point. As the section concludes the two reconcile and exit amicably.
In the third section Brown revisits the theme of opening with a solo performer. Yusha Sorvano dance is in sharp contrast to the preceding section. Set downstage it had an expansive feeling and Sorvano envelopes the entire space. The choreography now has a mature introspective quality, as Sorvano repeatedly crosses the stage changing level from the stage to the first platform.
In the duet that follows Mora-Amina Parker is a nurturing and supportive figure. The movement and interaction also promotes a more adult relationship. Parker physically supports and guides Sorvano giving her a friend to lean on. The final tableau with all six performers on stage created a parting portrait, a continuum of sorts. Maybe this imagery epilog is not an ending to Brown’s declaration, but possibly just the beginning.
Camille A. Brown & Dancers