Bodies in Motion

BY LYNN HASSELBARTH
Daily Arts Writer
Published January 14, 2005

Ronald Brown and his contemporary dance company, Evidence, will perform at the Power Center Sunday and Monday evenings as part of the University’s 18th Annual Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium.

Based on postmodern African and African American movement structures, Evidence reflects socially conscious themes such as racism and the collective mourning of communities destroyed and reborn. Founded in 1985 by Brown, the company seeks to connect ancestral strife to current experiences of loss. This profound message is coupled with optimism and a commitment to public education. In his mission statement, Brown declares his dedication: “To share perspectives through modern dance, theater and kinetic storytelling; to offer cultural exchanges that develop African contemporary dance … to discuss issues of race, class, gender and assimilation, through workshops, readings and the production of new works.”“This dance thing is connected to you,” Brown insists. “It is connected to your past and your present culture.” In order to make dance conversational and accessible to audiences, Brown chooses movement phrases that are instinctive and universal — a face covered in grief or humility, a naked torso that is expansive, defiant and courageous. Communicating collective experience through body language, Brown is able to reflect upon some of history’s most traumatic moments, while simultaneously communicating a sense of resilience and renewal.Sunday evening’s performance features “Walking Out the Dark,” a piece in which Brown draws on the experience of “bearing witness.” In this provocative work, two pairs of dancers, arranged in a square formation, engage in conversation. Impulsive movements proceed in an unpredictable sequence as one dancer provokes another. A compelling score of spoken poetry, aggressive drumming and vocal harmonies add another layer to the physical dialogue.The call-and-response nature of Brown’s choreography is derived from West African dance, with contemporary manifestations in hip-hop and club dance. Deeply rooted rhythms and pulsating bodies depict the social dance of the Ivory Coast and Senegal, whereas the eclectic musical selections and lighting depict the improvisational environment of the Brooklyn club scene of Brown’s youth.Both evenings will feature “Upside Down,” in which Brown depicts a community in mourning. The piece reflects chaos and uncertainty: A whirlwind of fierce bodies shows the energetic possibilities of the company’s ten dancers. The sudden loss of a community member shakes the bedrock of both the performers and viewers. Brown argues that loss and grief are inevitable, “a process that keeps one rooted.”Monday night will also feature two short pieces. “Grace” chronicles the spiritual journey to acknowledge the promises of life. Originally choreographed for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, this piece is set to a collection of music by Duke Ellington, Roy Davis and Nigerian composer Fela Kuti. Brown’s final selection, “Come Ye,” references revolutionaries and their pursuit of freedom. Brown raises the question, “To what extent are we to pick up the weapons of revolutionaries and continue their mission?”In reference to performing these pieces during the MLK symposium, Brown notes, “We need this opportunity to celebrate, to liberate each other … Our connection is essential.” He hopes audiences will gain “a feeling of empowerment and the desire to become one’s highest self.”Ronald Brown will also be featured in another symposium and artist interview, “African Roots in American Modern Dance,” at the University Department of Dance Betty Pease Studio on Monday from 1 to 4:30 p.m.