Evidence, A Dance Company

February 12, 2008

Evidence, A Dance Company

The Joyce Theater, NYC

February 12–17, 2008

Reviewed by Eva Yaa Asantewaa

In One Shot—his handsome New York premiere—Ronald K. Brown spills dancers across a huge projection of silver gelatin images by photojournalist Charles “Teenie” Harris (1908-1998). Harris—also nicknamed “One Shot”—was a Pittsburgh native who documented the famous folks and everyday people of his city’s black community. Brown has partnered with the August Wilson Center for African American Culture and the Carnegie Museum of Art in a salute to this nearly-forgotten chronicler of black life.

    An evening-length suite of dances in two acts, One Shot features the troupe’s familiar movement vocabulary—a synthesis of Western techniques with a blend of dance styles from the black diaspora. Like the Harris photos, the seven segments share glimpses of society—some Ailey-ready dancers in a jazz club, blue-collar workers who become an army troop, youthful singles discovering one another and sauntering off, full of hope and stardust. The past is always with us, Brown would say, at the core of everything we are and will be.

    One reliable aspect of Brown’s productions always heartens me—his eclectic, discerning ear for music, its rhythm, emotional charge, and meaning. In One Shot, he lays out fresh sounds (the tasty hip hop of Cuba’s Anonimo Consejo) and ones that deserve renewed attention (Lena Horne snuggling up to a standard). Listening to how Brown listens to music is a joy.

    Promising newbies Clarice Young, Khetanya Henderson, and Otis Donovan Herring join veterans steeped in Brown’s aesthetic, with zephyr-like Arcell Cabuag and ebullient Shani Collins, in particular, rocking out for all they’re worth. When radiant Tiffany Quinn, dressed as a woman of God, moves like a fighter, there’s no contradiction. Remember the civil rights movement, the black church, and the indomitable strength of its women.

    That glow you see in the opening segment—“First Glance”—is Keon Thoulouis, another Evidence vet, giving a primer on Brown’s fundamentals. Here is the body, set against open space, drawing in, rocking and pumping to gain strength, lashing out in great, lusty arcs and loops of energy. The feet, bare to the earth, land gently and skim away. The wily, parrying steps of capoeira—the popular Afro-Brazilian fight-dance—slip seamlessly into the mix.

    Brown has always been vulnerable to the charge that this movement mix does not change appreciably from piece to piece. One Shot—despite the generosity of its theme and the specificity and grandeur of its visual design—revives that critique. Some repetition and filler could be trimmed from its 90 minutes—including Brown’s own well-intentioned solos. The piece is a labor of love—a valentine to Harris and to their shared cultural heritage—and one can understand why Brown would want to dance in it. But his solos now suffer by comparison to the skills of younger dancers and veterans who have long since mastered his challenges.

    With this certainty and mastery in place, I continue to wonder, what ground remains unexplored, what appetites unfulfilled? How can the past serve not only what these lovely dancers are, but what they can be?


(Photo by Rachel Papo, Courtesy Evidence)