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Flash Review 1, 7-5: Looking for
Evidence of the Light
"Walking Out the Dark" with Ron K. Brown
By Byron Woods
Copyright 2001 Byron Woods
DURHAM, North Carolina -- "Thank
you for agreeing to meet me here. We must speak the truth to each other or stay
buried in the dark."
With these words, the curtain rose
last Thursday on a broken circle of dancers enacting a stark meditation on estrangement:
the world premiere of choreographer Ron K. Brown's "Walking Out the Dark" at the
American Dance Festival.
Much of Brown's work with his company,
Evidence, draws on elements of community and African-American history: The exuberance
of "Upside/Down," which opened Thursday's concert at Page Auditorium, celebrated
the cultural and life changes that upset our expectations and the social order,
while the broad canvas of last year's "High Life" came alive with the diverse
history of its varied subjects. By comparison, "Walking Out the Dark" is a decidedly
internal work, a sober examination of the differences that threaten four different
To Philip Hamilton's melange of blues
and spiritual-based music, two dancers warily approach each other from opposite
sides of two arcs on a darkened stage. One makes a supplication, articulating
in body language her relationship to another who stands, impassive as an idol.
She approaches, gestures and pleads with -- but never touches -- the object of
her attention. Throughout, he never moves. When finished with her supplications,
the woman stands still. After a moment's pause, the one she had been responding
to begins to move in similar demonstration -- while now the woman remains immobile.
The interior aspects of relationships
come to light, one after another. Repeatedly, the manifestos of individual identity
in Brown's work call for the clearest assessment of the distance that's grown
between the individual and the one he or she loves.
Brenda Dolan's stark overhead lights
circumscribe a ceremonial space where people come to tell the hard truths about
themselves and about each other. Brown's physical lexicon of West African, ballet
and modern movement has rarely been more pointed in its use of the dancers' entire
bodies to excavate internal emotional states. The extremity of the character's
relationships is ably demonstrated, as Brown's dancers repeatedly explore interpersonal
borders that apparently cannot be further compromised.
The characters in Brown's work prostrate
themselves and violently extend their bodies into empty space, in physical representations
of the tearing distance in their relationships, and its emotional toll on them.
They fling their bodies, arms and legs out, in radical attempts to describe the
chasm between them and the ones they love. They confront the differences that
separate them from one another.
But, significantly, they never touch,
complete the bridge or rescue one another. Sometimes, Brown seems to say, it's
far more important -- and more respectful, perhaps -- to see the other, clearly,
than it is to hold them. In order to ultimately overcome a distance, he suggests
in this work, one must first carefully survey it.
Though a series of dyadic duets arguably
suffer beyond a point from inadequate development over several iterations, the
final section of "Walking Out the Dark" intriguingly explores the communities
such estranged people ultimately form with each another. Individuals form larger
groups, lonely crowds that work through and share their isolations -- alone, together.
A final special effect I won't divulge gives new urgency to the work each must
do with his or her own issues and to the penalty awaiting those who don't. It's
a sober ending to a sober work, and a word to wise about home truths.
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