By Walter Rutledge
Camille A. Brown and Dancers presented the company’s first full evening concert series at the Joyce Theater, January 27 through 29th. The sold out three performance event featured six works performed by the fourteen member ensemble; which included three guest artists, Carmen DeLavallade, Christopher Huggins and Matthew Rushing, actor J. Michael Kinsey and Brown. The evening ranged from pure movement to dance theatre and displayed the scope and versatility of Brown and her company.
The evening opened with City of Rain. This was the only pure movement non-thematic ensemble work on the program. The cast of eight dancers established Brown’s signature style, coalescing jazz, and modern dance styles, while infusing movement from contemporary influences. The use of the spine as a movement impetus and the upper body gestural embellishments were coupled with an oft-times grounded lower torso that referenced West African dance.
Throughout the work, Brown avoided the cliché and overt. The movement vocabulary suggested her artistic influences without succumbing to them. This strength not only assisted in defining Brown stylistically, but also solidified her individual choreographic approach.
The Evolution Of A Secured Feminine followed. Choreographer Brown performed the solo, which was set in three sections to the music of Ella Fitzgerald, Betty Carter and Nancy Wilson respectively. The work showcased her dynamic stage persona and fleet-footed/solid technique. Most impressive was her choreographic timing and musical counterpoint, which dancer/artist Brown displayed throughout the evening.
Social commentary did not escape Brown. In Mr. Tol E. RAnce: Part 1, a work in development, Brown and collaborator J. Michael Kinsey tackle the topic of systemic racism in the historical portrayal of African-Americans by mainstream entertainment. The opening section was a parody of the minstrels of the late 1900’s. Again this was affectively achieved through stylistic suggestion, as opposed to literal/actual presentation and reconstruction of period movement or dances. The spoken word text by actor/narrator Kinsey and video projections provided the right blend of irony and satire.
The closing section was a solo performed by Brown, set to an instrumental version of It’s A Wonderful World. Brown thoughtfully conveyed both symbolism and consciousness; and the abstract poignancy of her engrossing performance literally changed the air in the room. Usually closing the first act with a solo is an anti-climatic death knell, but she was able to create a humanistic, moving and theatrical dance crescendo.
If Brown and Kinsey were able to successfully use text to enhance a story line, then Carmen DeLavallade perfected the concept, creating a story and an aura. The Creation: Plus 40 (1972- 2012) is based on the poem The Creation (1922) by James Weldon Johnson, and featured original choreography, music and costume by DeLavallade’s husband Geoffrey Holder. DeLavallade has reinterprets Holder’s original work and masterfully spellbound the audience through her acting, nuanced dancing, and indomitable stage presence. Although this was the only work on the program not choreographed by Brown it proved a welcomed program addition.
The two concluding works, a duet, Been There Done That (2010) and ensemble piece entitled The Groove To Nobody’s Business (2007), were dance theatre based works that embodied Brown’s storytelling talent. In Been There Done That Brown and Juel D. Lane were “regular folks”, they could have been your too familiar aunt and uncle, grown cousin and longtime boyfriend, or neighbors from down the block. The movement driven story, with its strong jazz dance overtones evolved into a personable glimpse into a relationship.
While The Groove To Nobody’s Business seemed to comment on the more impersonal, but real, interaction of urbanites. Matthew Rushing brilliantly translated Brown’s use of suspension and off-balance to his advantage. Christopher Huggins’ more complex “hoity-toity” character unwittingly endeared itself to the audience through his utter disdain for the people around him.
In Photo: 1) J. Michael Kinsey and company 2) Camille A. Brown 3) Cast of Mr. Tol E. RAnce: Part 1 4) Mayte Natalio and cast
Photography by Christopher Duggan