DANCE! The Choreographer Behind Porgy and Bess

DANCE! The Choreographer Behind Porgy and Bess

Evidence Dance Company's Ronald K. Brown brings modern dance for a new generation

Miles Marshall Lewis

by Miles Marshall Lewis, February 03, 2012

DANCE! The Choreographer Behind Porgy and Bess

Evidence repertory probably since ’99. But I added four new dancers; actually, this company hasn’t done it. I was like, This company would be great in it. Basically the idea was, how do we go from the façade of beauty to the foundation of beauty?

EBONY.COM: The late Michael Jackson had a fluidity in his dance, whereas a lot of the modern pop stars he influenced are obviously just performing strict dance moves in a less natural way. Can you speak to that?

I think the issue is about how things become codified. When you see [some] people dance, it’s like, “Oh, you learned those steps.” It takes a minute for the spirit to get there. I can teach you the steps but I can’t teach you your spirit. For me, that’s the disconnect. With a lot of young dancers too.

We had this audition, 120 people came. And we were like, “#87! #87!” Because her spirit was like, out there! Just out there. It’s good for me to see that, because I don’t want to say all the young people are just dancing like robots, learning steps. Are you gonna wear it out, or is your spirit gonna wear it out?

EBONY.COM: It could be generational, because they grew up on BET and MTV videos in a way that older dancers didn’t.

I’ve seen some dancers, and they go out, and it’s like, “Oh, you’re in a video.” For me, the cultural issue or threat is when the ego gets in there. “I want to be it!” Like Sonia Sanchez says, “I’m just a human, being.” And I think sometimes we wanna be, instead of just being. I think for me that’s the disconnect.

EBONY.COM: How do you choose your music?

Initially I have an idea for a piece, and then images come that I think belong to that idea. Then I try and find music to help me dance out those images. But I love music. Stuff from Nigeria or all over is gonna help us tell a story. I’m using movement from all these different places. I used some music from Cuba, Senegal, Guinea. It’s gonna be a combo because I mix it up. Because I’m tryin’ to show you how we’re connected.

My composition teacher challenged me at one point. She said, “You choreograph for these collages and this movement. And the music is always like a collage. Can you please use one composer? Just try.” And I was like, lemme figure it out. And so we have a new piece called “On Earth Together.” All the music is Stevie Wonder. “All I Do,” “Evil,” “Blame It on the Sun,” “You and I,” “Jesus Childen of America,” “Living for the City,” “As,” “Higher Ground,” and “They Won’t Go When I Go.” And so she made us transition like six, seven years ago.

EBONY.COM: Do you still go clubbing in New York City?

I still hang out. The Shelter, definitely. There’s a place called Underground, a place called Afterlife. I had gone to that Body & Soul party at the same venue as The Shelter. But for me, once it gets kinda trendy, when the young people are going and they have these matching straight pants, I can’t get with it. [laughter]

We can’t all be 50 years old up in the club. But even though it still feels kinda cliquish, I try and go to those places where I can just dance from the spirit. To me, it’s the same thing in the work with Evidence. How the spirit can be free. It’s not so much about the ego and who’s cool.

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