Inspired by African-American storytelling traditions, the powerful, impassioned and thoughtful dances of choreographer Ronald K. Brown will come to St. Louis for the first time Nov. 21-23 when Dance St. Louis and the Edison Theatre OVATIONS! Series will present his dance company, Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE.
The program will include three works: High Life, built upon images of migration and change; Upside Down, a strongly African work about loss and growth out of loss; and Come Ye, which premiered Oct. 21 in New York and was inspired by the music and legacy of the late jazz vocalist Nina Simone.
The Edison Theatre performances will begin at 8 p.m. Nov. 21-22 and at 1 p.m. Nov. 23.
In addition, Edison Theatre will present a special matinee performance as part of the ovations! for young people series at 11 a.m. Nov. 22.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Brown founded the eight-member EVIDENCE in 1985 at the age of 19. The company’s name, he said, reflects a desire that its work represent “all the information that has gone into us — the stories, the history. I wanted it to be evidence of people’s lives. It’s really the human experience.”
Brown frequently incorporates poems, letters and historical texts into his work. For example, Come Ye includes a poem that explains the piece “is a celebration/and an exhibition/of human heroes/heroes/that are waiting/for us to become/one.”
Come Ye also features music by Simone, the legendary singer, pianist, arranger, composer and “high priestess of soul” who died April 21 at 70. In addition to her music, Simone was celebrated for her commitment to the Civil Rights Movement, and Come Ye includes films of civil rights demonstrations as well as portraits of Simone, Gandhi, Muhammad Ali and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Of Come Ye’s world premiere, Claudia La Rocco of The Associated Press wrote, “Brown’s choreography is infused with an intense but never preachy spirituality that seems equally at home at church, in the dance hall or on the street corner.”
Upside Down (1998) is an excerpt from the full-evening work Destiny. It is heavily African in flavor, full of multirhythms and earth-centered West African movements. The music is by Mali singer Oumou Sangare and Fela Anikulap Kuti of Nigeria.
High Life (2000) draws parallels between the journeys of American blacks from the rural South to the urban North and the migration of Africans from villages to developing cities. It explores the gains and losses of change, the freedom of new beginnings and the disappearance of traditional values.
In keeping with its theme, High Life incorporates movements from jazz and the urban social dances now popular in Africa’s Ivory Coast. The work is set to the music and poetry of Oscar Brown Jr., Nikki Giovanni, The JB’s (James Brown’s band), Nkengas, Fela Anikulap Kuti and Wumni Olaiya.
Dance Magazine called Brown’s style “a polyglot African-club-hip-hop-postmodern vocabulary that he invented.” Sarah Kaufman wrote in The Washington Post, “Brown’s choreography has zoomed to the forefront of modern dance by virtue of its exquisitely sculpted movement and a compelling sense that dance springs from a deep well of spiritual urgency.”
In addition to his work for EVIDENCE, Brown has created pieces for such major contemporary companies as Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company and Philadanco. His numerous honors include a John Simon-Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in Choreography, a National Endowment for the Arts Choreographer’s Fellowship and a Black Theatre Alliance Award.
Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE is the first of Dance St. Louis’ three co-presentations this season with Edison Theatre’s OVATIONS! Series. Subsequent events will be New York’s Stephen Petronio Dance Jan. 23-25 and Britain’s famed “Ballet Boyz,” aka Michael Nunn and Billy Trevitt of George Piper Dances, Feb. 20-22.
Dance St. Louis has been bringing great dance of the world to St. Louis audiences since 1966. Dance St. Louis is a funded member of the Arts & Education Council of Greater St. Louis and receives support from the Wallace-Reader’s Digest Funds, the Regional Arts Commission, the Missouri Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts and other sources.
Tickets for the OVATIONS! shows are $28 for adults and $23 for students/seniors; ovations! for young people tickets are $7. They are available through the Edison Theatre Box Office; the Dance St. Louis Box Office (634 N. Grand Ave.); and all MetroTix outlets.
For more information, call 935-6543.