writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, Washington, D.C. edition

Dance with Texture—and a Heart

Ronald K. Brown/Evidence
Dance Place
Washington, D.C.
February 29, 2004

by Clare Croft
copyright © 2004 by Clare Croft
published 1 March 2004

Ron Brown’s choreography displays the best of a postmodern approach—diverse fusion of movements --while still embracing the capital letter ideals of Modernism, Truth and Beauty. Watching Brown’s company Evidence in their Sunday night performance at Dance Place, particularly in “Come Ye” a work that received its Washington premiere on Thursday at George Mason University, I felt I was watching a choreographer borne of the postmodern generation dismiss the relativist, flat-line tendencies that make so much of today’s choreography look the same. In Come Ye, a celebration of singer Nina Simone, Brown and his dancers (he performed with the company) defer to something bigger and higher than themselves. Repeatedly, they raise their arms, hands balled into fists, and arch their chests upward, embracing the air and at times each other with a reverent, almost sacred quality. But, this call to something beyond the stage does not have the dated air of the twentieth century classics because Brown’s seamless fusion of West African, modern and club dance solidly ties the universal to contemporary everyday life.

Come Ye does suffer from some of Brown’s usual problems, namely sections get a little too long and repetitive. The work begins with the title song, and then moves into the sashaying, soulful Sunday in Savannah. Next, the full company returns, jamming through fast and furious movement, but the energy falls as the group circles the stage, abruptly standing still every few steps. Only in these moments of stillness do the dancers appear tired. Their chests drop and their eyes, which for most of the work pierced the audience, glaze over. The walking circle goes on a bit too long and it takes a long time for the energy to rise again as they move into the finale. To close, a black and white film runs on the back wall behind the dancers, showing pictures from the civil rights movement and its leading figures, Martin Luther King Jr. and his inspiration, Gandhi, then ending with several portraits of Simone.

Brown’s movement is intense. The dancers pound their way through it with breathtaking vitality. But, unlike some choreographers who rely too heavily on their dancers’ beautiful bodies and technical capabilities, Brown builds in nuance and texture, so the phrases never appear only fast and furious, but allow for the dancers’ torsos to soften as their legs and arms fly. In Come Ye, the violence of some quicker phrases couples well with the delicate moments, echoing the range of Simone’s artistry.

Brown also chooses dancers who are truly comfortable in multiple vocabularies. Both the men and women of Evidence can switch from a flat-footed West African step into a high penché, performing both with equally high technical levels. The lanky Juel Lane best exemplifies the subtlety and breadth of Brown’s vocabulary. Lane is tall, well over six feet, but can move his long frame incredibly quickly, then suddenly leap high into the air with a sculpted leg trailing behind him. No matter the piece, he dances with a calming, rich serenity.

The performance also included older works by Brown, excerpts from Walking Out of the Dark to music by Sweet Honey in the Rock and Upside Down. Walking Out of the Dark was a bit disappointing, as its structure became predictable and repetitive. The work builds off a metaphor of dance as language, the four dancers again and again meeting in pairs center stage. One dancer performs a phrase to the other, who then responds with a phrase of his or her own. The dancers do seem to enter into conversation, but their conversations never seem that different.

Like Come Ye, Upside Down also plays on sacred themes, especially in its powerful closing when the men slowly cross the stage with slight steps, as a fourth kneels before them. His back hovers just above the floor as he sweeps through circular back bends.

The program was sold out for the entire weekend.

Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 9
March 1, 2004

© 2004 Clare Croft




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last updated on December 29,, 2003