REVIEW: Camille A. Brown and Dancers at The Joyce Theater
[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen you spend the evening with Camille A. Brown, you leave feeling that you are one of her closest friends.
The effect boggles me. Brown’s compositions seduce you into their center, as if you stumbled into the middle of a complex family history or an intimate conversation you were not fully prepared for. Brown is an honest mover, who carries in her dancing body her own journey, which means she bears all. She hides no idiosyncrasies, but rather delves into her uniqueness to find its source. She cultivates in her dancers truer versions of themselves so that even as they do her movement, they are set apart. Placed in an environment of socially conscious choreography that often allows performers freedom of theatricality, Brown’s combination of concept and execution is striking.
The Joyce show begins with City of Rain; it is quietly electric. From initial white pulsing lights, a calm intensity washes over the ensemble as they work in dynamic contradiction to a serene score by Jonathan Melville Pratt. Soloist David Norsworthy leads with grace and control, one moment weightlessly falling to the floor and the next lofted high in the air in a soaring jump. Here we are introduced (or reminded) of Brown’s intimate connection with music: an element which has always struck me in the work. Webs of spacial crossings and urgent floorwork foreshadows a gradual build in Pratt’s music that is unnoticeable until it is already rushing past. The ending of the piece comes from left-field, as the dancers melt mid-sentence into the dark.
I have seen Brown’s solo Evolution of Secured Feminine three times and each time I am newly inspired. Showcasing an approach that she has continued to develop in her repertory, this three-section dance monologue depends on mystique, environment and detail. Brown has so infused her own story (iconic brimmed hat over her eyes, signature walk and hand gestures) into the choreography that the solo has become trademark. It acts almost as an artist statement would for a painter. What is most exciting is the juxtaposition of Brown’s modern day woman with the 50’s song “Guess Who I Saw Today” and the subtle rewrites she accomplishes by moving between the lines. While dead-on technique is obvious, it is secondary to the overall scene of the solo. When you can vividly picture the surrounding people and place this conversation takes place in, the dance has moved beyond its technical parts.
Brown’s newest piece, Mr. TOL E RAncE is so ambitious conceptually that it will take two parts to accomplish, and we were presented with the first. Meant as a manifesto on the representation of black culture in the media (and the effects of a narrow and stereotypical portrayal), the piece places humor as the coping mechanism. Through a collaboration with designer and writer J. Michael Kinsey and dramturg Talvin Wilks Brown makes her dancers minstrels who are demanded to act according to pronounced cultural stereotypes. They have the puppet act down pat. After the sketch-heavy second section which drives most of the points home, Brown returns to the stage for another heartbreaking solo. This time, she draws inspiration from animatron-like street performers. Through stop-action she pulls herself together, one piece at a time. It is clear she is trying to please, but this act masks a deep sorrow, made only more poignant by an instrumental version of “What a Wonderful World.”
The inclusion of The Creation:Plus 40 danced by Carmen deLavallade was an unexpected delight in the program. Choreographed first by Geoffrey Holder in 1972 the piece is a dramatic interpretation of God’s creation of the world and man, redone 40 years later by Carmen herself. DeLavellade added context, class and timelessness to the program.
For those who have followed Brown’s work, the next two pieces are fan favorites. Been There, Done That first premiered at Jacob’s Pillow in summer 2010, and is a spoof on partnering. Breaking down the fourth wall it brings the audience into a rehearsal atmosphere. Mostly the piece allows Brown and Juel D. Lane to play–exposing their off-stage charisma. For the audience it is a chance to try to catch all the funny things that are mumbled between them.
The night closes with A Groove to Nobody’s Business which finds Camille and crew knee-deep in the frustrations of city subway systems. I’m positive that the social interactions here are drawn from actual life experience and that movement stems from real close examination of the subways’ everyday occupants. Because we can relate, we have fun with the performers. Compositionally, Brown gives us the choice of who to focus on. You cannot watch everyone at once, and you are not meant to. Like being on a train, you pick your point of interest. From the tourist with face in map, to the space-hog, to the businessman with newspaper and the oblivious headphone-wearer, all are equalized by the hassle of waiting for the train. And once they get on it’s no easier. Jostled and thrown on top of each other, we feel their pain and their solidarity in this inescapable communal experience.
It seems as though the variety in the program is flung far and wide. The successful common thread is the communication of human experience, and in particular, Brown’s. It is common creative advice to “write what you know,” and she does.