Grace with Clarice Young by Rachel Papo

Grace with Clarice Young by Rachel Papo

*People of African descent, living in America, have a lot going on. As a culture we are never at a loss as to how we express this.

Some of us choose writing while others choose acting. Some choose teaching, while others are just happy with a lifetime of learning.  There are those who choose dancing, while others choose to create the dance.

Enter Ronald K. Brown, choreographer extraordinaire, widely praised by many including The New York Times, who refers to him as “one of the most profound choreographers of his modern dance generation.”

Brown is Artistic Director of Evidence, A Dance Company that is making its debut this week at The Eli and Edythe Broad Stage in Santa Monica.

Artist types have a myriad of reasons for choosing to do what they do. For Brown it is storytelling through dance. He seeks to promote a greater understanding of the human experience in the African Diaspora and provide sensory connections to history and tradition through music, movement, and spoken word. This, he feels leads deeper into issues of spirituality, community responsibility and liberation.

On Friday, March 25 and Saturday, March 26, dancers from Evidence Dance Company will perform three works choreographed by Brown to the music of Grammy-nominated jazz pianist Jason Moran. “The Subtle One” (2014),  “Come Ye” to music of Nina Simone and Fela Anikulapo Kuti, which is a call to all those living in fear, all those willing to fight for their lives, and ultimately, to peace as guide and warrior.

The program culminates with “Grace” (1999/2004), originally created for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1999, it became part of the Evidence repertory in 2004, to music of Duke Ellington, Roy David, Jr. and Fela Anikulapo Kuti.  “Grace” weaves the story of a Goddess’ journey to Earth to spread grace among humans, ultimately welcoming them to heaven.

EURweb Senior Editor, DeBorah B. Pryor, chatted with Mr. Brown about his artistry. And boy oh boy, is it interesting!

Ronald K. Brown, credit: ©Julieta Cervantes

Ronald K. Brown, credit: ©Julieta Cervantes

An Actor digs into the script to build a character, an author is moved to develop a story based on a myriad of experiences, what moves a choreographer to create a dance.

For me, there are many similarities to how a script is developed and how an author might work. I have an initial idea for a dance, I begin to write about the piece, and images start to come. I look for music that will allow me to dance the images out. I go in the studio with the dancers (I don’t come in with set movement). I improvise and the dancers follow. I develop a phrase and continue to edit as I create phrases that are then crafted into the final choreography.

Having tenure as an actor gives me a deep understanding of what goes into the craft, which is very helpful in both teaching and writing. Do you feel it is necessary for a choreographer to have a background in dance first and why (or why not)

I think it is helpful when a choreographer understands what a body can do when it comes to dance. I have come across a few people who were non-dancers who spoke about seeing choreography, but it was always brought to me almost as an assignment. Almost [as] if they were bringing me an idea they wanted me to choreograph.

I think a choreographer with no dance training would rely heavily [on] dancers to generate the movement. I know that there are choreographers, who have a dance background, who do ask their dancers to improvise as a part of the process. This is not how I work. I generate the movement with the dancers in the studio and they take on the material as an actor would handle a script, but using their bodies as the mode of expression.

Do you “visualize” the dance first and then work to have your dancers “get there”…What is your process.

I don’t see the dance. I see images that I believe belong in the dance…and the music and images inspire the improvisation. When I get on the dance floor with the dancers, I get into a “zone” and the dancers recognize this and once I feel that I’ve set a phrase, I’ll stop moving and ask the dancers to show me.

Often one at a time. Then I build additional phrases. (Almost like sentences) until I have a paragraph and this continues until I feel the initial idea is realized. I will coach the dancers to “get there,” and will share with them items that I might have gathered to help me understand the work. This could be books, videos or photographs.

After such a long career as a writer, I find I must watch out and not over-analyze everything. Do you still dance? And what affect, if any, does your work as a choreographer have on this.

I don’t dance as much as I use to. That being said, I don’t think my dancing affects my role as a choreographer. Dancers inspire me, and I often choreograph for specific people. I think my dancing is helpful because I have heard that dancers appreciate that I can “show” them what I want them to do.

I believe artists are the most fortunate people on earth because they can use their gift(s) to bring people together, affect change, and heal the world. You’ve traveled the globe working with dancers in many countries, what are some of the major differences you experience with dancers country to country.

There have been some countries where students were a bit more reserved, because culturally they are more reserved, but I try and create a space that is open and about discovery. Quite a few years ago, I worked a lot in South Korea and Belgium, and the students [were] hungry and eager, in both countries.

If you were not a choreographer, what would your profession be

I think I would probably be a Massage Therapist.

And finally, what do you consider to be the best part of your job.

Sharing the work, is most important and best part of the job. Having Evidence perform in the US and abroad offering a window into
these danced stories that began as mere ideas is incredible. But it is also great to share the work with students of all ages who come to dance for different reasons in the varied spaces, from dance studios to universities.

Ronald K. Brown founded Evidence Dance Company in 1985. Based in Brooklyn, New York, the company focuses on the seamless integration of traditional African dance with contemporary choreography and spoken word. It is through the dance, that Evidence provides its unique view of human struggles, tragedies, and triumphs.

Under Brown’s leadership, the company uses movement as a way to reinforce the importance of community in African American culture and to acquaint audiences with the beauty of traditional African forms and rhythms.

As an advocate for the growth of the African American dance community, Brown is instrumental in encouraging young dancers to choreograph and to develop careers in dance.Evidence now tours to some 25 communities in the United States and abroad. The company has traveled to Cuba, Brazil, England, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Mexico, Senegal, Nigeria, South Africa and Canada to perform, teach master classes and conduct lecture/demonstrations for individuals of all ages.

The company brings arts education and cultural connections to local communities that have historically lacked these experiences. Annually they reach an audience of more than 25,000.

 Evidence, the Dance Company, is in town for TWO PERFORMANCES ONLY (on Friday, March 25 and Saturday, March 26) at 7:30p. at The Broad Stage,1310 11th St. Santa Monica CA 90401.

Parking is free.

Tickets are priced from $40 to $80 and are available online at www.thebroadstage.com and by calling 310-434- 3200. If you would like to purchase tickets in person, go to “Patron Services” at 1310 11th St. Santa Monica CA 90401 beginning three hours prior to performance.