Magazine article Dance Magazine

Spirit Made Visible: Ronald K. Brown's Company, Evidence, Celebrates 25 Years

Magazine article Dance Magazine

Spirit Made Visible: Ronald K. Brown's Company, Evidence, Celebrates 25 Years

Article excerpt

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As a little boy growing up in Brooklyn, Ronald Kevin Brown was in perpetual motion. His mom joked that it was hard to get him dressed for preschool because he was always dancing around and wouldn't stand still. By second grade, having seen a performance of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Brown was leading his cousins in making up dances in his family's living room.

But for one reason or another, Brown never received serious dance training as a kid. He didn't want to be the only boy in one class. At another point, his mother went into labor just when Ron was about to audition for a scholarship at Dance Theatre of Harlem. He took that as a sign that he should focus on being a good big brother. When he tried to apply to a performing arts junior high school, he was not accepted because he lived outside the district. "Something was always getting in the way," Brown says.

These days nothing is getting in Brown's way. He's one of the hottest choreographers in contemporary dance. His kinetically exciting style--a fusion of African and Caribbean dance, hip hop and modern dance--has been embraced as much for its rich cultural context as for its overt spirituality. The company has performed all over the world, and Brown himself is in demand as a choreographer, teacher, and mentor.

At the American Dance Festival, where Brown has been a popular teacher as well as a performer, director Charles Reinhart says Brown has an uncanny connection with students. "He has such a strong, peaceful inner force. It comes out like the shepherd to the flock," he says. "You just walk into the studio where he's teaching, and before he starts you feel this aura coming from him. It's so positive, so secure, that you already know it's going to be a great class."

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This month Brown's company, Evidence, A Dance Company, is celebrating its 25th year. The anniversary season at Harlem Stage looks back on Brown's dances dating from 1996. For audiences, it's a chance to experience a range of Brown's work; for Brown, it's an opportunity to gain perspective.

"All I have to do is look at the Alley organization or talk to Donald McKayle, who had a company before I was born," Brown said recently at his company's home base, the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corp. He also keeps in mind what Katherine Dunham, the iconic figure who pioneered the study of African and Caribbean dances, told him once at ADF: "Just don't let us down."

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That's "us" as in the black community.

Though he'll turn 44 next month, Brown still has the trim, athletic look of a dancer. There's no gray in the close-cropped beard or hesitation in his movements during rehearsals. Only recently has the choreographer begun taking himself out of his dances so he can focus on his dancers. But he still jumps back in if he has to.

"He's trying to dance less, but he's such an amazing dancer," effuses Arcell Cabuag, who does double duty as a performer and the company's associate artistic director. "His energy onstage is at 150 percent. He pushes you to take it to another level."

Brown had decided, by high school, to become a storyteller via journalism. Performing was never far away, though. He got involved in theater and laughingly recalls that he was the guy doing cart-wheels, splits, and other bits at the school talent show. But after graduating a year early from high school, he finally stepped into a dance studio. He'd taken a Graham class during the summer and was chagrined to discover he couldn't get the hang of rounding his back in a contraction.

Suddenly journalism was put on the back burner. Brown turned his focus to dance, working nights and studying during the day with the renowned modern dancer Mary Anthony. As he began to develop his choreographic voice, those around him pushed him to consider using dance to tell the stories of his community. …

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