As the lights dim, a single body walks on stage. Within seconds, a photograph dances its way across the projected backdrop; immediately light and sound bring the figure to life.
Last Friday, the Center for the Arts (CFA) and Dance Department hosted the world-premiere of the Ronald K. Brown/Evidence piece entitled “One Shot.” Inspired by the stories and history that have gone into humanity, Brown’s work represents the human experience, collectively serving as evidence of people’s lives.
In an open group discussion that Brown held with University faculty and students on Sept. 13, he described Evidence as “a reflection of us as people.”
In 1985, at nineteen years old, Brown founded the dance group Evidence, which quickly earned him praise. Noted by The New York Times as “one of the most profound choreographers of his modern dance generation,” Brown is revolutionizing dance in ways never seen before. Often incorporating film and photography into his work, Brown explores the history of Africans in America, passing African culture on to a new generation.
For his piece “One Shot,” Brown utilized the photography of Charles “Teenie” Harris, whose work chronicles the Pittsburg Hill District from post-Depression through the 1970s. Harris’s photographs depict a rare look into African American daily life; as a result, his viewers witness the evolution of a generation.
“He [Harris] created a legacy that gives people the capacity to dream,” Brown said. Harris, whose nickname “One Shot” inspired the title of the dance piece, became an integral part in Brown’s latest work.
“The title comes from the idea of opportunity, the one opportunity a person has to leave their legacy,” Brown said.
Last week, the audience at the CFA sat in awe of Brown’s performance and the intricacy of his choreography.
“The photographs in the background sent a strong message of someone’s legacy,” said Stephanie Clemente ’11. “Overall, the whole performance was very aesthetic. Not only could the audience relate to the movements, but the movements made you want to dance.”
During the open group discussion, members from the audience asked Brown how he maintains being an artist, choreographer and dancer, all while staying true to himself. Brown asserted that when the opportunity arises to create, he takes it.
“When the music comes, I have to do it,” he said. “I can’t worry about whether people will like it. I didn’t think I was going to be doing this 22 years ago. In general, people are going to put obstacles in your way, [such as] criticism, but you need to let it go.”
In the opening act of the performance, the dancers, wearing green fatigues, connected and communicated to the audience through emotion.
“There is a war going on,” Brown explained. “Behind the dancers is a picture of a burial sight. The piece deals with loss, and [the dancers] dance out joy, grief and dignity.”
Conversely, in the dance “One Shot: Bellows,” the music is luscious and passionate.
“The dancers represent a blade of grass,” revealed Brown. “This image was created by the dancers wearing army fatigues, holding their arms up towards the air.”
The conversation moved to more personal matters. Speaking from the heart, Brown noted the importance of family.
“The strength I have comes from my family,” he said. “My parents gave me money, and from that I rented a studio, did a show and made my own dance company. People were always saying, ‘What is this 21-year-old doing?’ I made the piece ”Grace“ as a result of the people who invested in me.”
Students, too, recognized Brown’s determination.
“He serves as an inspiration,” said Alyssa Bogdanow ’11. “He created this group entirely on his own when he was our age.”
“It was amazing to see such a renowned choreographer; to have that opportunity is rare,” Clemente said.
Brown’s story reveals that by having the willingness to sacrifice and succeed, true impact can be made. With a smile, he offered a last word of truth to the group: “Don’t deny the legacy you have in you.” This latest performance certainly won’t be his parting shot.