By Stephen Weir
Ronald K. Brown is one class act. The 51-year old American dancer and choreographer slipped into downtown Toronto over the weekend without fanfare, notice, and unfortunately ticket sales. His seven-member troupe put on last Friday’s night blistering performance at Harbourfront’s Fleck Theatre, even though they were dancing in front of a near empty house.
On the last leg of a seven-month cross America tour, where he and his troupe, Evidence, have played to sold out houses, he could have been forgiven had he left a bit of soul when he crossed over the border. But no, he and his dancers gave it their all. Jumping, running, rolling on the stage floor and then some, the dancers performed at a pace best described as synchronized blur.
Three dances were performed at each of three weekend shows. The dancers could be viewed simply as mature fit artists, moving in concert to African jazz and beat box music. Or, one can look deeper at the meanings for the moves.
Ronald K. Brown’s Four Corners was originally created for the Alvin Ailey African American Dance Theatre using 11 performers. Evidence brought only seven dancers to Canada, so it was a stripped down version of Four Corners. The dancers depict spiritual seekers amid four spirits perched on the corners of the globe, holding the four winds. Drawing from West African and modern dance influences, Brown uses grounded, earth-bound movements to portray figures that are burdened by grief but ultimately find peace, solace, and freedom with the aid of “the angels in their corners”
Early last year, Brown created a dance about the African and Caribbean Diaspora. On the weekend the troupe performed the Canadian debut of New Conversations: First Look.
The work was created in collaboration with multi-Grammy Award winning jazzman Aurturo O’Farill. It tells in dance the legend of Ochosi, a mystical Cuban warrior, magician and a shaman seer. On stage, three male and three female dancers slide from African steps into hip hop moves. Brown has explained that this dance is a ”work, which explores the connections between African rooted arts and the New World.”
Third number that night – Come Ye –the music and back-screen projection briefly froze. The full cast kept on in silence, moving only to the beat in their heads and the cheers of the small but supportive audience, until the soundtrack kicked back in!
Ronald K. Brown formed Evidence back in 1985. It was and still is one of the few all-African American and Caribbean Diaspora (Trinidad’s Makeda Thomas toured with the company for several seasons) dance groups performing in A-level venue. Ronald K. Brown has created an African influenced urban American dance style that burns up the stage by keeping his six dancers in the air more than at ground level for most of their 80-minute show.
The not-for profit organization, Toronto-based Dance Immersion, brought Ronald K. Brown to Toronto for three weekend performances at the Fleck. It was a rare visit to Canada for a group that tours the world.
Brown is a teacher (he and his dancers gave both Saturday and Sunday morning workshops with Toronto dance students), and a choreographer. He creates dances not just for Evidence but for other well known groups including the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ailey II, Jeune Ballet d’Afrique Noire, Ko-Thi Dance Company, and, the Muntu Dance Theater of Chicago.
In New York City, tickets to a Ronald K. Brown show are hard to come by, at any price. Too bad Canadians didn’t come out to catch one of America’s best. The few people who took in the show will never forget it.