Sunday, April 21, 2002

Frenetic energy lifts dances to high plane

By Carol Norris
Enquirer contributor

        There was a whole lotta dancin' going on at the Aronoff's Jarson-Kaplan this weekend. In town for Friday and Saturday performances, New York's Ronald K. Brown/Evidence builds dances to a frenetic pace — and then takes off from there.

        Mr. Brown is the sole choreographer of this African-American company. He's Brooklyn-born and New York-raised, but he explores movement with an Ivory Coast sensibility. The result is contemporary dance that's either Americanized African or Africanized American — it's hard to tell which part of his heritage has the stronger influence, so interwoven are the movements.

        Mr. Brown is a modern-trained dancer who decided in the 1980s to tell stories through dance and in essence developed an Afro-American folklore. In the three dances his young and gorgeous company performed at Friday's opening, it was clear he has no problem creating movement. He's relentlessly inventive; his dances chock-full of activity.

        The most obvious story came in “High Life,” a tale of the journey of black Americans out of slavery and into a migration north in the 1930s. To the music and poetry of Oscar Brown Jr., Nikki Giovanni, The JB's (James Brown's Band), Nkengas, Fela Anikulapo Kuti and Wumni Olaiya, the piece took us on a journey of emotions. There was the obvious feeling of disgust and outrage looking at “Bid Em In,” a brief walk-through of the slave block. But any feelings of despair were ultimately beaten down by the sense of jubilation from the incredible dancing. Mr. Brown never strays far from his roots and infuses everything with an earthy, rhythmic drive.

        It's an odd dichotomy — earth-bound movement with high energy. When leaps come, it's a surprise because everything else is so grounded. “Upside Down” — a tour de force for seven dancers — was full of this kind of up and down choreography. Its story was more obscure, but hinted at chaos. Its incessant drive could have been a metaphor for today's hectic lives.

        Moves could look silky, sexy and strutting as in “Ebony Magazine: to a village” or stooped and funny as the geriatric set swivel-hipped in “High Life.” Real people inhabit Mr. Brown's choreography — and they all have attitude.

        Costumes by Wumni Olaiya — vibrant oranges, reds and blues for the women, deeper colors often for the men — celebrated the moves and bodies of the dancers. This is a young company — fit and incredibly well-trained, but most noticeably in tune with the choreography's energetic demands.


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