EVIDENCE makes it clear; Choreographer Ronald K. Brown is the King of Smooth [REVIEW]

The company in “Mercy”. Photo by Julieta Cervantes

Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE
Livestream – The Joyce Theater, New York
February 18, 2021

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Brooklyn-based Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE’s livestream performance from The Joyce Theater Thursday night was like many pandemic produced programs these days in that it was a collection of mostly solos and duets. A continuation of the company’s 35th anniversary celebration, the program nonetheless left a lasting impression of award-winning choreographer Ronald K. Brown’s body of work and his deliciously smooth movement language that blends modern and African dance styles.

Presented by The Joyce Theater Foundation, Northrop, DANCECleveland, Cuyahoga Community College and PMG Arts Management, the virtual program began with the opening “Goddess” solo from Brown and company’s popular work Grace (1999/2004). Originally choreographed for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, EVIDENCE dancer Joyce Edwards brought a calm to her interpretation of the solo that is often delivered with a noticeably determined attitude. The short excerpt danced to a gospel tune felt like dream in which Edwards, all in white, seemed to envelope the viewer in a comforting embrace as if within the wings of an angel.

The next work on the program, “March,” a duet excerpted from Brown’s larger work Lessons (1995), jolted us from “Grace’s” dreamlike state into the very real issue of racism in this country. Danced to a civil rights-era recording of a speech given by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that speaks to the value of a man, dancers Demetrius Burns and Shaylin Watson worked through the rust of a long pandemic layoff to deliver Brown’s message of perseverance and dignity that drove the piece.  

Similar in movement style to the other works on the program, “March’s” choreography was a bit more gestural and cerebral in its approach. Subtilties laced within the movement spoke of emotional states that the dancers teased out with grace and feeling. Concluding with Bobby McFerrin’s 1990 song The 23rd psalm, “March” guided us back to angelic state.

Company star Annique Roberts then made her incomparable presence felt in Brown’s 2016 solo “She is Here” honoring “the legacy of mothers and teachers who have inspired living with integrity.” Danced to the song Vieques by Andy Gonzalez, Roberts in a green dress and bare feet leaned into Brown’s choreographic smoothness and applied energy and thoughtfulness to the movement that had her appearing to float about the stage in sways, shimmies, and the rocking of her body. It was a lovely performance by a remarkable dancer.

Choreographed in 2003 in tribute to late American Dance Festival co-­director, Stephanie Reinhart, the solo “For You” was a quiet expression of a love lost. Performed by Daniel S. Harder to Donny Hathaway’s A Song For You, the piece began with Harder walking along a row of four white flowers lying on the rear stage floor. Harder then melted into Brown’s swirling, jutting choreography that spread out over the stage in moments of remembrance and melancholy that appeared to escape from Harder’s soul in the form of movement.

The last of program’s solo works was “Palo Y Machete” excerpted from Brown’s 2007 piece One Shot, inspired by the life and work of noted Pittsburgh photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris. Performed by company Associate Artistic Director Arcell Cabuag to Cuban rap duo Anónimo Consejo’s song Loma Y Machete, the solo had a militaristic vibe to it with Cabuag costumed like Che Guevara. The somewhat contained choreography had Cabuag dancing in place early on before stepping out into stylized marching, bending, gathering, and pointing movements.

Closing out the performance was 2019’s group work “Mercy”.  Set to music by Meshell Ndegeocello, the work for ten dancers encompassed the breadth of Brown’s signature movement language.

Roberts, looking like a priestess in costume designer Omotayo Wunmi Olaiya’s regal and textured attire with tall hat, moved between three white fabric pillars as if in a temple of sorts.

Edifying and glorifying with her dancing, Roberts opening solo carried by Ndegeocello’s soothing voice, felt ceremonial. Soon joined by the rest of the cast, the work laid out a bevy of movement (individual and shared) that rested in smoothness, feeling and compassion. Said to be “a physical journey by the dancers towards justice in response to assault,” the work, performed marvelously by the troupe, highlighted a program worthy of repeated viewing.  ​

Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE’s virtual performance is available on-demand until March 4. Digital streaming tickets are $25 and available at dancecleveland.org or by calling 216-991-9000.

Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.