February 25, 2017
Although this is a review of Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the impending retirement of Dance Place’s Founding Director Carla Perlo and Director Deborah Riley in August 2017. Dance Place, through their leadership, has been a vital part of the DC dance community. For more than thirty years at their current location, residents of the nation’s capital have benefitted from being exposed to amazing dance artists and having great dance education available, all at affordable prices. Dance Place recently underwent major renovations and expansion and now has an even more impressive arts campus, which will surely continue to enrich the community. It’s sad to see these pioneering women move on, but the legacy they’ve left behind will last. It’s impossible to imagine that Dance Place would not keep growing and nourishing Washington dance lovers.
Perlo and Riley have been gifts, and Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE is a gift, too. Walking Out the Dark, choreographed by Brown in 2001, was apparently inspired by visits to Africa and Cuba, and it is likewise a gift. The work is a masterful melding of different styles of dance and moods. It is contemplative and inspiring. Sometimes heavy, sometimes joyful, it begs its audience to be kind to each other. It reminds us, despite geographic and cultural boundaries, we’re made of the same stuff. We share the same earth.
The music for Walking Out the Dark includes Sweet Honey and the Rock, Philip Hamilton, Ballet Folklorico Cutumba de Santiago and Toumani Diabate. The work begins with four dancers — Arcell Caubag, Annique Roberts, Keon Thoulouis and Clarice Young, standing in each of the stage’s four corners in individual pools of light. They wear simple costumes in shades of brown (costume design by Carolyn Meckha Cherry). The dancers move toward each other and engage in a form of mirrored sparring. Their bodies have voices as forceful as the recorded singers. They are solemn and strong, distant and determined. The dancers offer a feast of hips, legs, and arms. There are hops and springs, shuffles and jumps, and when there is silence, breathing and stomps. Alternately, at times dancers take turns standing still. At the close of the first section, fine dirt rains down on the dancers, who are spreadeagled, faceup on the floor.
Ronald K. Brown, wearing regal white, enters the stage next and recites text. He references being buried in the earth of grief. When the dancers re-enter the stage, they’ve rested, and they return to movement of heart-stopping beauty. Their hands thump over their hearts; their knees rise to their chests; their shoulders roll. The dancers are indefatigable. Lastly, they present prayers, bowing intimately to the ground.
In a separate section, the female dancers don island dresses, long and with layered with ruffles. The dancers appear more light-hearted. A happier spirit replaces the previous troubled undertones. Addictive rhythms move through their bodies in seemingly effortless waves of elation. Vibrant red, with a tinge of orange, costumes the dancers in the final section. The dancers embody love and hope and celebration. Joy erupted in me as well.
Following the performance, the International Association of Blacks in Dance (IABD) sponsored a wonderful reception with scrumptious soul food. I wish I hadn’t eaten soul food before the show! Even so, I managed to eat a slice of delicious sweet potato pie, which made the evening even more sweet.