The call, from here | Arts Feature | Indy Week

Arts » Arts Feature

The call, from here

Ronald K. Brown thinks about redemption, before Paul Taylor's 50th reception makes us wonder about the ones to come

by

comment
In the church of Ronald K. Brown, Nina Simone sings the altar call. The melody is simple, unaffected. The message could not be more direct:

Come ye
ye who would have love
It's time to take a stand ...

As her single voice challenges, cajoles and exhorts in turn the repeated phrase "ye who would have hope," her lyrics form a primer in the necessity both of deep faith and equally deep labor. Figuratively and literally, the music summons us to rise, within ourselves and in the world.

It's an appropriate centerpiece for Come Ye, a work designed to call hope forth out of fear, and invoke a different kind of soldier in a violent time. "Prayer warriors," Brown called them in our conversation last November, dedicated to fight for peace and the liberation of all.

Eleven months after giving students here a glimpse of things to come, this week Brown's company, EVIDENCE, brings Come Ye to the ADF mainstage. After summoning these new spiritual avatars, the choreographer then proposes their next step, in the world premiere of Redemption.

When we spoke last week, we returned to first principles. Why the focus on spirituality in his work? To counterbalance the tendency in the world to value material attainment over spiritual attainment. Why invoke communities? Because they're under attack.

Our conversation went from there:

Brown: For me, getting stuff was never really a priority. I joke and say I'm stuck in 1972 with gadgets and technology; it's like I'm not that curious about it, even. I'm in a constant state of saying, "Well, no, Ron, this actually makes life a little more easy." It took years before I got an e-mail account and joined that whole link.

I think I'm more interested in how we're treating each other, how we can continue to exist in the world; how all of us function together. The liberation of someone across the globe, their liberation is directly connected to mine, I believe.

The Independent: And communities?

In the world you can be independent and totally detached--like that's actually ideal. It's so ironic, because at the same time we're supposed to conform to the same ideas of beauty and be in this clique, you know: "I'm Hollywood fabulous."

You have your own house, your own laptop, your own cell phone. Everything is self-contained, individual. And a sense of responsibility for another person is very rare. Maybe in someone's family, or if you join the Boy Scouts (chuckles). But for the most part, you're fabulous if you look like whatever the ideal is. And you're isolated.

I don't think that's true, for one. And two, I don't think it's the way we function most productively in the world.

We have to be mindful of how we treat each other so we can move forward and make changes. So we can bring up children and make sure the elders don't feel displaced. So there's a solidarity that's built around mutual respect.

It has to start on the simplest level, with the people around you: your family, the people you work with; then it echoes, and reverberates ultimately to the world. If we function this way, we would have a worldview that's not that I'm better than anyone, or that I can own someone else or take what they have.

Enough elements in our culture are about isolating people, fracturing community. Individuals seem more vulnerable in a community that's split, either physically, intellectually or spiritually.

I think it's purposeful to some degree. Because how our culture's functioning--it's how do I become more powerful than you, richer than you, if I am able to shatter what you stand on, shatter your sense of connection and strength, then I win. There's this idea of, okay, let's make everyone doubt themselves and feel isolated. It's part of giving someone else power and money, too.

Is Come Ye doing what you envisioned it would last fall?

Yes, it is doing what I intended. But then what happens happens in my choreography assignments--my next piece, Redemption, allows me to go a little further.

For now that I'm a warrior, now I feel aligned with other revolutionaries--now what do you do?

As always, what's the next step.

Of course I don't understand the process until I'm in it or coming out of it, but I was dealing with the classic ideas of redemption: God gives you redemption, the cleansing of your sins.

Then when I looked up "redeem," it meant to turn over, to turn in, to cash in--the idea that it was something that a human could do.

So I started playing with the idea--oh, we can redeem each other. Something in how we deal with each other can give the other redemption. It's not only us waiting on God to redeem us; it's something we do with each other that leads to redemption as well.

That became the journey of the piece. How do we take each other to this state of redemption, this sacred space, this clean space, this space where we feel free?

I know it's in King James' version of the Bible: "Work out your own salvation..."

I think in a lot of Christian teaching people miss that element of it: that it's about the work that you're going to do--the real work you're going to do. Too often people believe it's just about showing up. On Sunday.

And that's not the real work it takes with each other, with people. We have to work on our salvation. And understand that our salvation is connected to each other's, not just "all who believe what I believe."

Ronald K. Brown explores Redemption Thursday through Saturday, June 24-26, in Page Auditorium.

Paul Taylor completed a three-night retrospective of his company's first half-century in modern dance last Saturday night in Page Auditorium. A mixed crowd was in attendance throughout the run. Dance history scholars here to view history (in the making and already made) were interspersed with first-year ADF students, regional patrons, a handful of critics from out of town and random first-timers at the dance.

Were I a gambler, I'd bet that nearly all found something useful to take away. For seasoned scholars, the audience's easy laughter at Thursday's 3 Epitaphs may have measured the distance the work had come from its iconoclastic beginnings in 1956 as a warm-up to Taylor's outrageous 7 New Dances the following year--and arguably one of the first "crossover" works in modern dance.

Similar readings were no doubt taken on other works, choreography carbon-datings for their continued relevance (Sunset) or correctness (Dream Girls) in the present, precarious aesthetic, political and sociosexual moment.

Actually, with a crowd that big, make that word "moments" instead, since the 60-year-old Republican dance historian in all likelihood occupies a different set of coordinates on each of these grids than the 19-year-old post-punk prodigy. Each sees the same work. Each has the capacity to see something fundamentally different in it.

Me? I'm presently somewhere between the two. And it's a curiosity in my line of work that I have to be able to take in what the others see from where they're standing, as well as articulate what I see as I stand here. For dance criticism is, among a host of other things, about beginning and continuing a conversation--not pre-empting or concluding one.

If I talk about how a work like Aureole has aged--or more accurately, how one night's fairly workmanlike performance of it made me want to coin the phrase "The Stepford Ballet"--I had better know it was not always thus. At least a couple of people despised 3 Epitaphs in 1956, a fact that did not prevent the revolutions yet to come.

If works can reflect the times in which they were created, the circumstances under which they are reconstituted may say something about the present. Extreme care was obviously given Saturday's Airs. It was a technically exquisite enchantment to these eyes--even as it painted an improbably idealized picture of men and women in absurdly romantic accord.

Saturday's Promethean Fire, which made both our year's best list and the New York Times' last year, reaffirmed the strengths of the opening and the final movements. Almost effortlessly, Taylor rapidly sketched a series of relationships and exchanges, and just as deftly wiped them from the blackboard of the stage in his dancers' widening gyre.

But this second look also revealed a second movement pas de deux between Lisa Viola and Michael Trusnovec, whose obvious characterizations seemed nearly made of cardboard. How did we miss that the first time around? Or did we?

If all values, all criticisms given art are contingent, those given dance are even more so. If the culture in which a work of art was made is in constant flux, the live dance performance outflanks it, changing every night.

I have no final verdicts for Paul Taylor. Neither has anyone else, if they're being honest.

Even in my few minutes on this beat, I've seen at least one dance genre and more than one dance artist fall from favor and then later find renewed support.

I realize that, on at least one level, what an audience does with a work of art tonight is just as important as what it did with it 50 years ago. I also realize that tomorrow's audience is just as likely to overturn that decision--whatever it happens to be.

Some optimistic souls call dance criticism "the first draft of history." I wish they'd add this note along with it when they do:

This is what an artwork made us think and feel and learn. This time. Tonight.

Against the ravages of inconstant memory and incomplete report, this is what it was and what we saw, as best, as clearly as we can say it.

And this is also who and what we were, in turn, when we were in its presence.

When we were charitable, some of us hoped that even our favorite meanings wouldn't be the last ones that these things would ever have.

Hello from here.

Hey, Fellerath, are you listening? Experimental film fans should find major food for thought when ADF presents the Dancing for the Camera International Video and Film Festival this weekend at White Lecture Hall. Three days, three programs of shorts and documentaries from Australia, Canada, Germany and the United States, and all of it's free. Friday's lineup runs at 8 p.m. Saturday reconvenes at 3 p.m. Sunday's session begins at 2 p.m. More info's on the ADF Web site, at www.americandancefestival.org/Special/camera.html

We'll be talking more about Acts to Follow, the free Saturday series devoted to North Carolina choreographers, but just an observation or two from their first concert, last Saturday at Baldwin Auditorium. Terpsicorps Theatre of Dance's Celtic ballet work, Le Suil Go...(In the Hope that...) demonstrated significant development from last year's showing, while Cornelia Kip Lee continued to knock down difference in her fully embodied work, Parting. In another gratifying tradition, presenters underestimated the audience--as 140 viewers shared the 100 programs printed for the occasion. Word has it that a few dozen more will be on hand when ADF presents Laura Thomasson, Amy Chavasse & Lisa Gonzales, Michelle Pearson, Courtney Greer & Jodi Obeid this Saturday, June 26, at 6:30 p.m., in a free concert designed to end in time for the mainstage evening performance by Ronald K. Brown.

Next week: John Jasperse' new company finds an unidentified object in CALIFORNIA. See for yourself, Tuesday and Wednesday, June 29-30, at Reynolds Theater. EndBlock

Add a comment