Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE, the Brooklyn-based dance company founded in 1985 is back at the Joyce Theater presenting two works by Brown showing off the exuberance, sensuality and technical brilliance of its eight dancers plus one guest artist.
“Walking Out the Dark” (2001) was the more substantial work. Using only four dancers—until the very end when company associate artistic director Arcell Cabuag performed a peculiarly out-of-place solo—Brown began in a quietly intense mood, gradually lightening up by the end of this uneven, but well-meaning 50-minute work.
The opening section was the most intriguing. Four dancers—Demetrius Burns, Joyce Edwards, Gregory Hamilton and Isaiah K. Harvey—stood in bright individual spotlights on an otherwise dark stage. They wore loose, layered earth-tone costumes (designed by Carolyn Meckha Cherry & Omotayo Wunmi Olaiya) which changed with each episode, the colors becoming brighter and the cut more flowing. (These costume changes necessitated pauses between each section giving “Walking” an awkward pacing, mostly overcome by the sheer dedication of the dancers each time they reappeared.)
Stark music—piano and voice—by Philip Hamilton slowly brought the dancers to life. Each section was accompanied by ever more dramatic and sensual music by Sweet Honey in the Rock and the Cutumba Ballet Folklórico de Santiago de Cuba.
The standout was a spectacular live drum solo performed by Abou Camara which accompanied Cabuag’s supplicant dance in which he approached Camara, ending by dragging himself to him and holding onto his feet: moving but weird, especially since it followed Brown, himself, all in white, speaking sadly about his sister and brother.
Soon the first pair approached each other and performed what can only be described as a conversation in dance. They quietly moved about each other, one moving faster than the other, offering open arms in aborted embraces, their bodies do-si-doing hypnotically until they returned to their original spots under the lights.
The second couple, two men, similarly expressed themselves in movements that revealed a lack of warmth, despite overtones of intimacy. They stretched and twisted and slowly backed off.
Each subsequent section lightened the emotions bit by bit. The music shifted to exuberant Afro-Cuban, the dancers responding equally exuberantly. At one point what looked like sand rained down upon the supine dancers, an otherworldly effect that was mysterious and eerie supported by Brenda Gray’s moody lighting design, re-created by Tsubasa Kamei.
“Torch” (2012) was the more entertaining work using high-spirited music by Teddy Douglas and DJ Zinhle. The dancers—and Brown—pulled out all the stops with breathtakingly agile and sensual body isolations including complicated arm movements, body pulsations, quick rotations of legs from the hips, soft runs, pounding feet and even a shoulder stand or two.
The “Torch” costumes by Keiko Voltaire flowed and accentuated the complex choreography which, again, began with bent over dancers moving slowly about the stage. By the end of “Torch” the cast became a blur of festive outpourings. Although it is probably unfair to praise any of these dancers over the other, I found Joyce Edwards and Isaiah K. Harvey to be standouts, their joy doing Brown’s work evident from beginning to end.
Lighting again enhanced the work, this time by Clifton Taylor, re-created by Kamei.
Brown’s vivid—if repetitious—movement palette combines African, Capoeira, Hip-Hop, modern and even a touch of ballet. He loves contrasting fast and slow, high and low and solos with ensembles, all to reveal emotions and relationships which he does eloquently. He does need to get a better grasp on form which needs tightening.
Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE (January 16 – 21, 2024)
The Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-242-0800 or visit http://www.Joyce.org
Running time: one hour and 45 minutes including one intermission