Thursday, February 14, 2013

Evidence—Constant Conversation

Annique Roberts (left, in Torch) wants YOU. Photo: Ayodele Casel.
Ronald K. Brown has created his own mesmerizing dance language, blending African with modern, ballet, and a bunch of other stuff. It hits me most powerfully when it's driven by the wide-ranging music, the movement emanating from each dancer's core that acts like a gyroscope, tethering windmilling arms and bouncing feet and legs. But it can have its own interesting life apart from the music, as it did in Order My Steps (2005) at the Joyce recently, which included a pensive, spacy composition by Kronos Quartet in addition to Bob Marley. It's read less with the heart and more with the brain.

In Brown's choreography, the dancers always seem to be feeding us information, whether it's one of the gestures that have become a sort of shorthand (fingers pointing up or at us, or the "what can I say" shrug), telling a storyline more directly, or simply needing to move, with the same spontaneity and power as a horse bucking. Even the funny stiff-legged shuffle to move on and offstage, or the subtle shoulder shrugging and air patting that convey "going" or "thinking" or "staying" to me... it's a constant conversation.

Brown's company, Evidence, premiered his new work, Torch, on February 12th. Annique Roberts, in all white, represents the piece's inspiration, a company patron who succumbed from cancer. She takes a literal fall from a shoulder stand, and is shadowed by Brown in his sole appearance of the evening. The tone is reverential, but the pace quickens as music shifts gears. Roberts is remarkable in this dance, and throughout the program—muscular, plush, quick, angelic, and serene. Torch suffers somewhat from the unflattering kelly green and white costumes by Keiko Voltaire, although the women change from choir robes (as some fevered gospel music plays) to sportier mint and butter hued clothes as the work progresses. 

Roberts is also featured in Incidents (1998), a work danced by five women based on stories from the life of a slave. Here, the voluminous muslin costumes by Omotayo Olaiya are used to good effect as the dancers gather their skirts vigorously or spin, letting them balloon out. A woman with a bare back is tended to by the other three, immediately creating an evocative, dramatic setting, and an example of Brown's more literal style. Matthew Rushing danced a section of Ife/My Heart (2005) done by Brown for the Ailey company. One of the most concise dancers around, Rushing's precision and speed are unfailing, and his somewhat remote affect actually intensifies the emotions produced by the movement. He's always a thrill to watch.

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