Vibrant colors, pounding rhythms and powerful motions are only some of the tools Ronald K. Brown used to convey a deep sense of spiritual and physical energy in last night’s performance of “Evidence.” Brown, who choreographed works in the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, fuses West African, modern and club dance into a unique interpretation of tribal African movement and its relation to contemporary African culture. The dancers’ fast-paced, rhythmic movements took advantage of their unbelievable physical strength, as they swept across the stage using every muscle in their bodies. The few moments of stillness were instantly overpowered by the continuous arm whirling and foot tapping that defined Brown’s use of the body to express the intensity of human emotion.
The first of three acts, “Upside Down” showcased the costume design of Omotayo Wunmi Olaiya, which had a defining impact on the performance. Four women were wrapped in vividly colored silk costumes that flowed with their movements, making colorful shapes as the fabric bent and twisted around the dancer. Each woman wore a different color, yet the men wore matching wrap-around pants in duller shades, emphasizing the vivacity and individuality of the female dancers. Brown portrayed women as strong and powerful, repeatedly having the men and women do the same movements. Throughout the dance, the men were shirtless and even though they appeared to move effortlessly, it was clear from the sweat on their bare chests that the dance was extremely strenuous.
Brown’s choice of music, like the dance, was powerful and rhythmic. There were a variety of pieces ranging from African-influenced beats to electronic club mixes, Gospel and Jazz. Music acted as a propelling force for the dancers, streamlining the seamless synchronization of movement and sound. The dancers’ movements seemed inspired by the music they were hearing on stage, bringing the sound to life in an explosion of rhythm and motion.
As easy as it was to get distracted by the breathtaking aesthetic of the performance, many of the dances had specific themes and stories. “Upside Down” dealt with themes of life and death. Death was placed in the beginning of the dance and a funeral at the end contrasted with the continual motion and celebration of life in the middle. “Come Ye” featured the music of Nina Simone, with the dancers repeatedly raising their arms to the heavens and convulsing their bodies as a sign of religious awakening and spiritual realization. Towards the end of the act, images of civil rights leaders such as Frederick Douglas, Malcolm X and Ghandi, flashed across a screen behind the dancers. The dancers seemed to use their strength to empower the civil rights movement and urge those on the screen to let go of fear, fight for their lives and peace. “Grace,” as the name implies, was also religiously influenced and featured angelic imagery, with dancers in white, flowing gowns.
After the performers bowed to a standing ovation and thunderous applause from the sold-out Campbell Hall audience, they resumed their movement, arms stretched in spirals, hips turning sensually. The fusion of dance and music was visibly contagious to the audience, with some tapping their feet and others getting out of their seats to sway to the rhythms. As the curtain closed, it was apparent that the continuous power and energy of “Evidence” would remain long after this performance was over.