Dallas — On Friday night, the Winspear Opera House bristled with excitement, emotion, and savory movement thanks to Evidence, A Dance Company. A veteran professional within the dance community, Artistic Director Ronald K. Brown has worked with world renowned companies such as the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ailey II, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, and Philadanco. Deeply rooted in African dance techniques, his company merges these culturally invaluable styles with contemporary genres of modern dance. Although his mission to bring value and awareness to the stories and experiences of the African-American community is not unique to him alone, his company perfects these ideas in mainstream dance. In their one-night residency kicking-off the 2019-2020 TITAS/Dance Unbound season, Evidence displayed the depth and development of Brown’s work—presenting pieces from 1999-2019.
Originally performed by Philadanco in 1999, Gatekeepers set a high bar for the rest of the evening. As if made for their bodies, the Evidence dancers took on the sultry, grounded movement vocabulary with maturity and ease. Wunami’s spirited electronic score presented a stark contrast between the pounding beat and the velvety steps of the movers. Brown gave us many contradictions throughout the night—the most satisfying of which was his masterful ability to balance the resiliency and strength of his dancers with stunning moments of unhurried ease.
Gatekeepers featured sensuous hip rolls with loose, lazy steps that challenged the unrelenting, heavy beats—causing a sensorial feast for audience members to consume. There was an underwater quality to their movements. Weighted ripples, unexpected pauses, and passive falls permeated the space.
As the piece progressed, another distinctive trait appeared: repetition. Taking on the role of magician, Brown employed one of the most basic tools of choreographic process and managed to transform two or three phrases into three lengthy, mesmerizing movement sections. Repetition is reflective of traditional African dance forms: featuring bent knees, body percussion, a sense of community, and symmetrical patterns. These qualities are not only recognizable through Brown’s work, but act as the foundation for his movement language.
One impactful example of this method appeared through two sequential duets during the middle section of the piece. Two men crouched, slid, and turned along a strong diagonal line—confronting one another with a perplexing mixture of tenderness and resistance. Immediately following their partnership, two women filled their places, repeating the same phrases with a similar quality, yet offering a new perspective and tone.
However, amidst the technically brilliant turns, leaps, and athleticism of the dancers, perhaps the most satisfying moment in the entire piece fell at the conclusion. After a dizzying series of quick spins, flying limbs, and shaking hips, the cast stood in stillness—gazing intently despite the climactic music as the lights dimmed.
Jumping 20 years into the future, Brown’s Mercy both furthered these foundational themes and displayed his choreographic maturity. Pillars of white fabric with soft lights in the center decorated the stage for a visually stunning, yet simplistic set.
A single soloist cut through the dividers with slow, downcast steps interrupted by rigid cactus arms. Gradually, more dancers filtered through the maze, repeating her emotionally burdened phrasework—playing peak-a-boo as they wove through the scattered pillars for a spatially riveting visual.
In another experiment with contrast, the dancers wore loose, flowing black costumes with red accents—their dark tones swirling through the white pillars with raised hands and dejected collapses.
In addition to Brown’s attention to African rhythms and repetitive patterns, provocative gestures emerged. One particularly resonant motif portrayed the dancers slowly rolling their spines to standing while raising a fist above their heads—their crooked necks and the extended hold of this position paired with the lifted open palms of earlier movements emitted a solemn, grim atmosphere situated within Meshell Ndegeocello’s rousing accompaniment.
While the entire cast oozed with luscious movement, guest dancer Kirven Douthit-Boyd and Demetrius Burns stood-out with their individual moments of powerful control and sumptuous undulations.
Referencing back to Brown’s work with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Grace gave viewers the soulful sounds of Duke Ellington matched with deep lunges, punching fists, and quivering elbows of the company.
As electronic beats bubbled to the surface, the five men of the group radiated intensity through their stealthy crouches and mellow heel bounces. Their unified energy resulted in a commanding presence that grew throughout the piece.
All-too-brief solos from Arcell Cabuag and Fana Tesfagiorgis once again highlighted how Brown’s choreography allows for the individual style of each dancer to complement the set movements. Grounded sways and slick footwork accentuated Cabuag’s fluidity and cool demeanor, while the jutting arm positions, and forceful kicks emphasized Tesgagiorgis’ assertive style.
In the end, these three works provided thoughtful, mesmerizing, and downright entertaining examples of bodily expressions of the human experience. Despite the time gap in his works, one thing is clear: Brown’s movement vocabulary and storytelling abilities have simply been refined and improved over time.