Evidence, A Dance Company

February 8, 2011

Evidence, A Dance Company
The Joyce Theater, NYC

February 8–13, 2011

Reviewed by Susan Yung

 

Joel Sulé Adam and Annique Roberts in Ronald K. Brown’s
On Earth Together. Photo by Julieta Cervantes. Courtesy Evidence.

 

Evidence celebrated the end of its 25th year with two strong programs by choreographer and artistic director Ronald K. Brown. Amid the variety of works chosen to mark this milestone, one constant stood out—Brown’s pursuit of the ecstatic, be it through spiritual themes or the sheer delight that arises from his choreography, whether witnessed or danced.


Brown’s distinctive movement language combines modern and ballet with elements drawn from African dance. Solidly grounded feet support supple, expressive torsos and talkative arms. When the dancers jump or leap from this firm stance, the effect is explosive, as if they were breaking free from gravity. Tapping feet or small pelvic orbits keep time to the music while the head floats above like a gyroscope. The dances often follow the structure of a suite, with songs or music by different artists, resulting in effective dynamic and atmospheric shifts. Brown sometimes traces a story or underscores a moral, but with enough subtlety that to those who aren’t following, his formalism and emotional expressiveness are ample reward.


The first program included three solid repertory works and the one season premiere. Ife/My Heart (2005), commissioned by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, explores the centrality of faith through the generations. Lessons: Exotica/To Harm the Dangerous (1995), could be read as a parable about the necessity of cooperating with others. Coiled, static poses burst into big movements, alternating between control, power, and abandon, while a softly curved, raised hand signals benediction. Brown performed the solo For You (2003) with a gentle strength; three flowers laid onstage added a mysterious note of sentiment.


On Earth Together
, a premiere, was a suite to Stevie Wonder, whose music played in the house pre-curtain. To “All I Do,” Arcell Cabaug moved diagonally downstage, pulsating, advancing, and retreating. Joel Sulé Adam beamed as he danced Brown’s joyful choreography, as warm as the sun on an icy day. To “Evil,” three dancers stood isolated in rectangles of light, eventually encroaching on each others’ turf and accepting one another. “Blame It on the Sun” and “You and I” are two of Wonder’s most moving ballads; Brown corralled their sweeping drama, adding the visual punctuation of lifts. Standing onstage, he proudly watched his company in the finale.


In Water (1999), which led off the second program, the dancers wore white clothes stained blood red (by Omotayo Wunmi Olaiya, who created all of the evening’s costumes); the women changed before our eyes, with their backs to us, into strappy tube tops. Cheryl Boyce Taylor recited her own poetry, wandering on and offstage, alternating with harmonic music by Sweet Honey in the Rock and songs from Benin. Bowls of water, the essence of life, conveyed a literal and metaphorical sense of transformation—baptism, cleansing, renewal.


The journey from enslavement in Africa to modern America is suggested in High Life (2000), where cheap blue and red checkered cargo bags replace leather suitcases, and clothes morph from traditional Victorian-style long skirts and suits to bright, modern African-print tunics. Clarice Young stood out with her cool, serene focus, as she did in the lead role in another Ailey commission, Grace (1999/2004). Here, Brown displays a full command of the formal and emotional potential of theatrical dance. The rousing final section elicited an overwhelming euphoria from the audience.



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