As African drums play on, a dancer, clearly classically trained, goes beyond the familiar, arguably outside language itself. Forget plies and entrechats: There is no word for what she's doing now, as she translates movement based on walasodong--a Senegambian dance associated with slavery and freedom--into her body's own native tongue.
She changes the movement as she embodies it. And the movement changes her.
One thing seems certain: her ballet master would not approve.
Which is a shame, because I'm watching a moment beyond genre, beyond good or bad. It's a moment of discovery. Of crossing over. A moment in which at least two different cultures meet in one woman's body for the first time, to change and inform the person both find there.
We should almost not be watching. But in a dance world with no shortage of petrified official Techniques, Methods and Schools, such moments are exceedingly rare.
Which is why choreographer Ronald K. Brown is here. "That process is so natural, and it is so happening all of the time," he observes at the end of an invitational weekend intensive at Duke University. "It's also what a lot of people fear.
"Culturally in the U.S. or the Western World, they want everybody to be in Levis, speaking standard English, and that's not really how the world operates," Brown observes. "There has always been an exchange, a trade. So I am fascinated when the natural acculturation process is allowed to happen, when someone creates a space to say, 'It's okay for us to exchange ideas and realize how much we can benefit from knowing each other.' My language increases and so does yours when we get a chance to interact."
When applying for a National College Choreography Initiative grant, Duke dance program director Barbara Dickerson and assistant professor Ava Vinesett looked for ways to at least begin to bridge some of the gaps between the different colleges and disciplines in regional dance.
"The initial focus was about community," Vinesett recalls. "The roots of traditional African dance are in community. So we were trying to figure out a way to get these folks together and share in a work that didn't look like, 'Okay, this is the ballet section, this is the modern section, and this is the African section.'"
Ron K. Brown immediately came to mind. His company, Evidence, has crossed so many disciplines over recent years at American Dance Festival, in works like "Walking Out the Dark," and last summer's elegy for Stephanie Rinehart, "For You."
Brown's group performs his latest work, Come Ye, to music by Nina Simone and Fela Kuti, Thursday, Nov. 6 at Hayti Heritage Center at the end of a weeklong residency there.
"I knew I had a Nina Simone piece in me," he tells the students. "I just assumed it would be about civil protest. With songs like 'Mississippi Goddamn' and 'Trouble in Mind,' I assumed it would be about the civil rights era.
"Then 9/11 happened," Brown remembers. "We were about to go to war. And I was in my house, listening, and 'Come Ye' came on. It's a call for everyone who's living in fear, for people to have hope.
"It was exactly what I was feeling at that time," Brown says. "I understand protecting your people and lands. The song just reminds me that even if we have to make war, hopefully the process is ultimately about creating peace.
"It's about prayer warriors, dedicated to the fight, but ultimately dedicated to peace. It's about the ancestors calling us, telling us to get in line and build a new kind of army, one that's about the liberation of all."
The invitation's open, this Thursday night at Hayti.
Contact Byron at email@example.com
Reviews & Openings
OTHER NOTABLE OPENINGS:
Rime: Women, Bird and Beast, Wordshed, Swain Hall, UNC-CH; King Hedley II, University Theater, Thompson Theater, NC State; The Rainmaker, Temple Theater, Sanford; Having Our Say, Triad Stage, Greensboro; Storyteller Willa Brigham, Duke Gardens Amphitheater; How The Other Half Loves, Raleigh Little Theater; Storybook Tales, Raleigh Dance Theatre, Jones Auditorium, Meredith College.
****1/2 Shakespeare's R&J, StreetSigns--Closing Sunday, this season standout, an imaginatively directed and beautifully acted little gem of a show, constitutes a clandestine production of Romeo & Juliet a quartet of boys at a military academy put on after-hours. Regional newcomer Akil soulfully groans his way through the Romeo role as Student One, an agent provocateur whose voice recalls both Dave Matthews and Nat King Cole, and Francis Sarnie IV's student Juliet is commendably understated. Christopher Salazar and Ronnie Cruz ably aid in a constellation of supporting roles. It's hard to say which is the greater achievement: Joe Calarco's four-person adaptation of Romeo & Juliet that actually works, or a split-focus Shakespeare which isn't muddied when used to illuminate a fundamentally different world. Don't miss it. (Thu-Sat, 8 pm; Sun, 2 pm. Thru Nov. 9. Swain Hall, UNC. $14 Fri/Sat, $12 Thu/Sun. Senior, student and group rates available. 843-3865.)
***1/2 Hedda Gabler, Deep Dish Theater--This is the one you'll be arguing about all the way home. Is the title character--a woman stuck in 1890s Norwegian society whose analytical gifts permit her to more easily damage everyone around her--a sociopath, a victim, an early feminist, or all of the above? Do Jon Robin Baitz' adaptation and Paul Frellick's direction show us an incomplete portrait or an incomplete soul? Why do supporting actors Geoffrey Zeger, Katja Hill and the gaunt Mark Jeffrey Miller suggest nothing so much as a bouquet of Charles Baudelaire's famous flowers, already quickly fading at the start? And to what degree does the icy intellect of Dorothy Brown's performance, and her character's preoccupation with forbidden freedom, creativity and power, resonate with Camus' Caligula, Weiss' Sade--and the habits of certain spiders? (Thu-Sat, 8 pm, Sun, 3 pm. Thru Nov. 22. University Mall, Estes Dr and 15-501, Chapel Hill. $14, $12 seniors, $10 students. 968-1515.)
***1/2 A Prayer for Owen Meany, Playmakers Rep--One show, three verdicts: Playmakers' Owen Meany is (1) a good production (2) of a problematic adaptation (3) of a pretty dismal novel. There's no shortage of interesting images on stage in this American premiere, as director David Hammond influences significant individual performances while experimenting with surreal, presentational staging. Jeff Gurner's a disquieting true believer in the title role as God's little emissary of death, and actors Joan Darling, Gregory Northrop, Ray Dooley and Tandy Cronyn offer considerable ensemble support.
But Simon Bent's skeletal adaptation of John Irving's long and largely joyless novel alters, elides and removes too many symbols, characters and plot points. Sure, a second night--a la All The King's Men--would flesh things out considerably. But who would really want to spend another night with the perpetually squeamish John Wheelwright, a narrator who so rarely learns from his past? By the end of play and novel, John's a character reduced to the Christianity he claims (perhaps too hastily) in the first sentence of both. Why? Owen's religious martyrdom, which the whole work sets us up for, manages to redeem everyone except the narrator--but neither novel nor show ever tells us why. (Tue-Sat, 8 pm; Sun, 2 pm. Thru Nov. 9. Paul Green Theater, UNC Center for Dramatic Art, Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill. $32-$10. 962-7529.)
*** Gothic, Dog and Pony Show--At its best, this mixed evening of one-offs (which closed Halloween night at Manbites Dog Theater) explored the fun of fright. Nicole Quenelle's maiden (who loved few things more dearly than being scared out of her wits) gave savor to the evening's peak, the delicious, amusing and imaginatively adapted sections from Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. Lissa Brennan's gross-out props grossed-out the audience in selections from Matthew Lewis' The Monk, and Jay O'Berski's aristocratic reading of Green Tea satirized the heightened language of Horror.
** The Guys, Bull City Players--The famous two-person play about Sept. 11, 2001 answers the question, "Who bears the pall?" thusly: All of us, whoever's available, whoever's left. When editor and former journalist Joan helps Nick, a New York City Fire Department captain, find the right words for eight eulogies he has to give, both help restore the victims' humanity--and find their own restored in return. But this profound script needs two actors up to its challenges, and presently only David Berberian is, as Nick. As a beginning actor Jen Wichman demonstrates promise, but more seasoned abilities (and better directing) are clearly called for here in the role of former foreign correspondent Joan. (Fri-Sat, 8 pm; Sun, 3 pm. Thru Nov. 16. Durham Arts Council PSI Theatre, 120 Morris St., Durham. $12 Fri, Sat; $10 Sun. 490-8603, www.bullcityplayers.org)