Review: Ronald K. Brown/Evidence (dance Immersion)

Photo of Ronald K. Brown/Evidence in Four Cornersdance Immersion presented an evening of contemporary African and Caribbean dance in Toronto

Toronto has a lot of great local dance companies both small and large. But big-name companies from beyond Canada are presented far too infrequently for my taste. So, when I had the chance to review Ronald K. Brown/Evidence presented by dance Immersion at the Fleck Dance Theatre, I jumped at it.

I wasn’t disappointed. Ronald K. Brown/Evidence provided an evening of three dances which blended traditional African and Caribbean dance with modern choreography in beautiful and innovative ways. The dancers were technically strong and the choreography had great emotional power. And the Fleck Dance Theatre is a perfect space to watch dance. There’s not a bad seat in the house.

As with much contemporary dance, none of the dances had a straightforward narrative. The lack of story can sometimes be daunting and make dance hard to understand. My recommendation in these situations is not to worry too much about what the performance is trying to say or what it means. Just sit back, watch, and notice how it makes you feel.

The evening began with Four Corners, which was originally commissioned and performed by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 2013. Four Corners is set to music by several artists. It started out bluesy and twanging, switched to a more horn-driven jazz style, and ended with a North African lullaby. The piece envisions four angels standing on the four corners of the earth holding up the four winds. The dancers spin and step across the stage with a weightiness that anchors them to the earth. They never stopped moving with body rolls and contractions like water rippling through them. It was smooth and rhythmic at the same time. The dancers appeared to be in a trance, not looking at each other or at the audience. I found it mesmerizing.

The second piece, New Conversations: First Look is set to an original Afro-Caribbean jazz score by Arturo O’Farrill. The six dancers are again in constant, repeating motion. One performer follows behind the next with the same steps just a few beats later. The movement incorporates the grounded nature of both African and modern dance. Unlike ballet, the dancers’ knees are often bent. Even when they jump, the focus is on the down not on the up.

My favourite piece, Come Ye, closed out the performance. Come Ye featured music by Nina Simone and Fela Anikulapo Kuti and seemed to me to be a celebration of struggle and faith. Unlike in the first two pieces, the dancers reacted to and interacted with each other. They looked up and out at the audience. They seemed like a community rather than isolated individuals. The movement began with prayer-like poses. One section was a stylized social dance, with dancers partnering each other. In another, they raised their fists in the air in a show of resistance. The piece also featured a video collage of scenes from the civil rights movement and images of famous activists.

All in all, I thought it was a great evening of dance. I’m grateful to dance Immersion for bringing Ronald K. Brown/Evidence to Toronto.

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Photo of Shayla Alayre Caldwell, Keon Thoulouis, Annique Roberts and Arcell Cabuag by Saya Hishikawa