Oz Arts Presents:
Ronald K. Brown’s Evidence: Grace, Mercy, and The Equality of Night and Day: First Glimpse
In my past work for Music City Review I have written about only music, whether it is a CD release or a live concert. That sort of work is in my wheelhouse. Then last week I was asked to write about Ronald K. Brown’s dance company Evidence presenting Grace, Mercy, and The Equality of Night and Day: First Glimpse at OZ Arts. When I was asked to do this the phrase “writing about music is like dancing about architecture” came to mind. The originator of this phrase is unknown, but it comes close to my feelings about this review.
In 1985 Ronald K. Brown founded Evidence in Brooklyn, New York with the purpose to integrate “African dance with contemporary choreography, music, and spoken word. Through its work, the company provides a unique view of human struggles, tragedies, and triumphs.” The program at OZ Arts was a shining example of a triptych of works that focused on that mission.
Opening the show was Mercy choreographed in 2019 by Brown. Mercy was originally created as a companion piece to Grace which ended the program. Mercy “focuses on the seeking of compassion, which leads one to have mercy.” Clothed in rich dark costumes, designed by Omotayo Wunmi Olaiya, this piece featured solo dancers struggling with each other until finally ending in a joyous resolve of compassion. This piece was a visual feast with dancers constantly entering and exiting from all sides of the stage. Three pillars of fabric stretched from the floor to ceiling which served as miniature frames for the stage. The upbeat music lent a solid tempo for the dancers to work with. Overall, it was my favorite piece of the evening.
At the very beginning of the evening the audience was told that the next piece on the program, The Equality of Night and Day: First Glimpse, was a work in progress. TEND (as the piece was referred to as) was still in the beginning stages and the final product would be different from what the audience would see that evening. Although this was the case, the work came off as an already fully developed piece. This was the slowest and most somber of the dances that night. The dancers, clad in blue uniforms, circled each other unhurriedly. Taking turns, one dancer would move to the middle of the circle for a solo and take off the top of their costume. The tops were all laid in a pile in the middle of the circle. Aurally, the piece juxtaposed prerecorded speeches by activist Angela Davis with music by pianist and composer Jason Moran. Davis spoke about the dangers of rising conservatism along with the disproportionate rates of incarceration of young black men. The words grounded this piece in the here-and-now unlike the other works that dealt with universal themes. Unfortunately, Davis’ words were an undeveloped critique that distracted from the action on the stage. For me this piece had the highest emotional intensities and the most jarring switches between words and music. I am eager to see what the final product will be.
The final dance was Grace which was created in 1999 and is undoubtably a masterpiece. An angelic figure in white weaved their way through opposing dancers in red. Over time the full company emerged clothed in the warring white and red costumes. This piece was the highest energy of the evening. Throughout the audience began to clap on beat with the music and broke out into applause after a particularly flashy flourish. The energy became infectious and by the end many members of the audience were shouting “Get it girls!” and “Bring it fellas!” to the dancers on stage. The intensity of Brown’s choreography was evident from the sweat flying from the dancers’ bodies. Altogether this was an amazing evening and a great showing for Evidence. Hopefully we have the fortune of seeing them back in Nashville soon.
If you would like to find out more about Evidence please click here. (https://www.evidencedance.com)