EVIDENCE, A Dance Company

There seemed to be a lot of confusion around the Evidence, A Dance Company performance tonight at the Ferst. I got an email at 3p stating the the show was at 6p rather than 5p, as was printed on the ticket. Then they started about half an hour late. Finally, the program listed the pieces in the wrong order. It was, however, certainly an enjoyable show of Ronald K. Brown’s choreography.

The show began strongly with Why You Follow/Por Que Sigues, which was originally choreographed for MalPaso, a Cuban dance company that will be performing next weekend at the Ferst. Based on what’s in the program notes, I’m pretty sure that what I got out of this piece wasn’t quite what was intended. Honestly, I think that may be true of the entire concert program and, while I accept some of the blame for it, I think that a lot of it falls on the choreographer as well. Anyway, the piece was high-energy and the style of dance seemed to be a vocabulary from African folk dance expressed using a grammar from Western modern dance. The costumes were not far from what one might wear to a club on a warm evening. It seemed to start with a grand welcome to the audience followed by a series of solos, as though introducing each dancer. This lead into something that seemed somewhat like a social dance scene set to music that was kind of like funk over African percussion. The program calls the first part that I read as a welcome “Commitment”, the second part is called “The Path,” and the third was “Faithfully Forward.” If I missed or misunderstood something, it was still a really enjoyable piece and made for a great introduction to the evening. I wouldn’t be upset to see it performed again by MalPaso next weekend.

The second piece of the evening was a work in progress called The Subtle One. Honestly, this one never quite gripped me. The dancers were all in loosely fitting white garments and I thought that it might actually be another piece on the program called Grace. (Brown came out after this piece and told us the real order of program; it was clear that the first pieces was different than what was listed so I wasn’t sure at this point which was which.) The music was a jazz suite by Jason Moran and the choreography seemed a little raw and not quite filled out. The dancers actually seemed a little off at the beginning, too. I honestly don’t know how much of this is that it’s a work in progress and not yet fully realized or how much is just that it’s not ever going to be a solid piece. I really can’t even remember much more about it than the costuming and my opinion.

The third piece was started fairly powerfully. It was a duet called Lessons: March. It was marked as an excerpt, though I’m not sure if it’s March that is an excerpt from a larger piece called Lessons or what. The piece began with the two dancers moving to an address given by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr to the Methodist Student Leadership Conference in Lincoln, NE. The choreography seemed to be inspired by the thought process behind the address more so than the specifics that were being said. Or, perhaps, it was the thought process inspired by the address. Either way, it created a really strong aesthetic union with King’s voice as it discussed the fallacy of attempts to rationalize white supremacy. The dancers began with one performing some repetitive action, such as walking, while the other would do something more involved and responsive to the speech. They somewhat tended toward moving along a circular path as they progressed through the piece. As it progressed, they would move together but then shift back to this pattern. Toward the end of the speech, as King was transitioning from his critique to a call for action, the sound of dixieland jazz slowly rose up to the level of the speech and then the speech faded into Bobby McFerrin’s augmented chanting arrangement of Psalm 23. This wasn’t bad, by any means, but I found that it kind of weakened the power of the dancing to the unaccompanied speech for me. The movement to the speech kind of seemed like a kind of narrative step forward from Pearl Primus’ Strange Fruit and, as such, benefited in my mind from the respect and affinity that I have for that piece.

The final piece of the evening was much lighter. Grace began with a single dancer, as a goddess in white, performed to slow jazz from Duke Ellington. Her movements, drawn from African folk dance, seemed at the same time a contrast to what would be expected to go with the music and also a perfect response. This transitioned into a series of dances by worshipers or acolytes, half in red and half in white. She began to intermingle with them, spreading her grace among them. Some conflict then seemed to arise between the people, though in the end, the goddess seemed to reintroduce everyone to peace and love and joy. As much as the opening solo was interesting to me, it seemed to kind resolve into a kind of dance party for the goddess: beautiful people doing amazing things less for meaning and more for the sake of having beautiful people doing amazing things. When the part that I describe as seeming to be conflict came, I wasn’t quite sure what it was doing; it just seemed to happen and not be saying anything in particular. It tightened up toward the end, but I don’t really feel that there was a successful narrative flow throughout it. Still, beautiful people doing amazing things is still pretty enjoyable and it wasn’t a bad piece.

There were a few things that I noticed about Brown’s choreography throughout the show. The first was that his blocking was made interesting uses of gaps and spaces. Sometimes it was like the Tristan chord, staying unresolved and causing a sense of dramatic tension. If I were to watch anything of his again, I’d definitely pay closer attention to this. Another thing that I noticed were the transitions: the work had remarkably smooth and clever segues between movements.

The final thing was the importance of having either uniformity or diversity of body shapes in a company. All of the dancers were tall and long-limbed except for one excellent dancer, associate artistic director Arcell Cabuag. As I noted, his dancing was great but, at times, his short limbs made him look like his range of motion was limited when he was placed among the long-limbed dancers. At times the blocking compensated for this but at others it was difficult to appreciate his extraordinary talent. If there had been a greater blend of body types, I think that the illusion of his limitation would have been broken.

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