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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 relationships.

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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