Performing Arts: Dance
March 18, 2020
As an occasional performer of traditional Irish Dance, I have been amazed by what some presenters have expected of me and my fellow steppers. A two-hour show? Sure! Granted, a lot of these demands have no grounding in any actual understanding of the thing being presented; still, it begs the question – what is the extent to which traditional forms work in a concert setting? The company I work with, Darrah Carr Dance, deals with this by producing a blend of traditional Irish and contemporary dance, which frees us from having to be stuck on our toes, but also allows our steps to tackle a wider range of topics.

Ronald K. Brown’s Evidence, A Dance Company, too, fuses its traditional language of African dance with contemporary choreography, though in a blend that remains consistent from piece-to-piece. Most striking about their 2020 Joyce season is Brown’s ability to clearly showcase his traditional-contemporary language across three strikingly different dressings of set/costume, sound, and narrative.

High Life manages to make your skin crawl as you tap your toes to the beat of a musical slave auction by Oscar Brown, Jr. As this unfolds, Brown’s dancers cross the stage in a unified vocabulary, from which some momentarily digress.

This structure’s recurrence as the piece progresses makes clear its intention of tracing African American lineage – both the profound and the everyday, in moments of darkness and light, incorporating suitcases as a signal of constant migration, even as one stays put.

Woven throughout is an unavoidable gesture – a fist, raised upward from a tilting head. Despite the indication of lynching, dancers only ever perform it unto themselves, in and beyond its associated periods of time. After many chapters, the work’s final section features utopian garments by Omotayo Wunmi Olaiya, which leave the dancers’ backs exposed such that all we can see is a lack of scars and, accordingly, an embodiment of freedom.

A sharp aesthetic departure, Mercy trades in period costuming and characterization for a sense of regality, which feels at once archaeological and futuristic in its Tsubasa Kamei set of three illuminated columns.

Contrasting High Life’s collage of musical selections, singer-songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello provides an original score of bluesy reverence. Despite these differences, the lynching motif carries over, however, embedded in a slowly developed canon, which always sequences after the gesture an upward release of the hands, and a return of the spine to verticality.

Grace drove the program home with its intertwining of African American spirituality with relentless rhythmic expression. Originally set on Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1999, when performed by Evidence it feels like a homecoming. It is in this work that Associate Artistic Director Arcell Cabuag appeared alongside younger faces who similarly danced for the first time in a performance celebrating not only shades of skin, but also that of masculine and feminine energies in a comprehensive display of how a brown body can look and move.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews

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