REVIEW: Ronald K. Brown’s EVIDENCE, A Dance Company presents Walking Out the Dark
by Mariana Barros
On Saturday February 25th, the Dance Place lobby was buzzing in anticipation of Ronald K. Brown’s work in Walking Out the Dark. Brown’s EVIDENCE, A Dance Company was founded in 1985 and has since helped Brown put a stamp on dance culture in America and the world. The Brooklyn based company, well known for its seamless fusion of African, Afro-Caribbean, and contemporary movement, equipped itself with some of its finest dancers and transported the audience to a sacred place where music served as the setting and dance the language in which rituals and tradition communicate to form culture.
True to the reputation which precedes his work, Brown filled the evening with an eclectic range of movement that mirrored his own background. Brown’s choreography is distinctive, not only for its deep roots in Afro and Caribbean rhythm, but for its ability to surpass genre, time, and culture and tap into raw human emotion that knows no sex, age, or borders. This time, Brown took us home.
The evening opened with a dark stage except for four dancers each in their own spotlights and spread out in all four corners: mother, brother, lover, and friend. The first number titled meet me in the temple, with music by Philip Hamilton, set the tone for the rest of the evening – one in which conversation was the thread that wove truth in humanity and coexistence into a complex double helix that is vital for healing and human progress. The piece began with back-to-back conversations held by two dancers at a time. Each pair walked straight paths to the middle where they confronted each other unapologetic, frank, and exposed. This first piece was mostly influenced by traditional African movement, mixed with a bit of urban and contemporary movement. Arm swings and contractions led to pivoting legs and attitudes, then later headstands. Movement stemmed heavily from the chest and was syncopated in timing, yet was seamlessly intertwined.
The first number was interrupted by an epilogue of sorts; a still Brown telling a story of his sister bringing him to their temple and reminding him where he comes from, of home. The first movement then ended with all four dancers downstage being showered with dirt. It was then that I realized that we were witnessing the conversations of ancestors, and cultural history in the making. Brown took the different corporal dialects that most influence his choreography and brought them to the source. He brought a modern fusion of dance language and placed it on its ancestors to make sense of, and relay, their teachings.
I really liked the the way this show was cast. I couldn’t necessarily make out who the specific characters were, but quite honestly I couldn’t care. What came through the most in this character dynamic was a sense of shared responsibility, of heightened community.
The second movement, seeking/healing, performed again by all four dancers with music by Sweet Honey and the Rock, included my favorite use of sound. This piece began with the dancers rising from the ashes and exploring their environment in a much more inquisitive manner. Their movement transformed from an almost confrontational tone in the first scene to an exploration of space and relativity to each other. Sounds of nature and melodies blended together to form a canvas full of possibilities. The characters mingled at times and other times danced on their own – seeking, healing. A stand out moment for me was a solo phrase by dancer Annique Roberts. Roberts’ control and precision when tackling the complex movement was breathtaking. Overall, this cast did an incredible job of taking athletic movement and relaying it effortlessly
The third piece, thank you, was a diversion from the rest of the show. It was influenced by an Afro-Cuban corporal vocabulary with music from the Cutumba Ballet Folklorico Cutumba de Santiago and the dancers in traditional folkloric caribbean costumes; the ladies in long skirts and men in loose slacks. This piece seemed almost regal. Drums were still the driving pulse, but in a different way than in the prior two pieces. The tone was lighter, more sensible. There was also a notable use of the hips which had not been as prevalent in the first two movements. Gestures were more gentle; steps were taken carefully, yet decisively, and were driven by a purpose that seemed to come from lessons learned and a desire to share them.
Brown himself took the stage for a brief solo that served as a palate cleanser of sorts. EVIDENCE dancers, Arcell Cabuag (Associate Artistic Director), Clarice Young (Rehearsal Director), Annique Roberts (Assistant Rehearsal Director), and Keon Thoulouis tackled the choreography ferociously. Their execution of diverse movement was grounded in exceptional technique. Amazing! However, when Brown took the stage, I was awe-struck. Brown moved with inexplicable comfort and versatility. I honestly couldn’t tell you how long his solo was, I was completely wrapped up in it. All I can say is it wasn’t long enough.
The show culminated with celebration/faith/life, a joyous celebration honoring past, present, and a future full of promise. Music by Toumani Diabate was also a diversion from the rest of the show. This time, the sound was driven by strings rather than the thump of a drum. There were quick steps and jumps that began with a single file line across the stage. With the dancers decked out in all red, the movement of this piece was an exultation – the exclamation point at the end of sentence with chest out, chins high, and arms raised even higher up to the sky.
Walking Out the Dark perfectly exemplified the beauty of traditional dance explored in precise execution. I was awestruck and inspired. EVIDENCE used dance as the primary means of communication, with music, lights, and anything else being almost an afterthought. Brown once again proved why audiences and critics of dance flock to his shows – to watch a celebration of dance as an innate and integral part of the human experience.
This performance was a joint effort by EVIDENCE, A Dance Company, Dance Place, the National Association of Blacks in Dance and the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation with support from the National Endowment for the Arts.