My take on Ron K. Brown/EVIDENCE, in the Chronicle:
“To appreciate the stir Ronald K. Brown’s “Grace” made when it premiered at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1999, you have to understand the situation the company was in. For more than a decade since Ailey’s death, the predicament remained the same: fabulous dancers, unworthy new dances. And then Brown’s movement exploded onto the stage. Urgent and reverent, streetwise and soulful, it took the deep spirituality that makes Ailey’s “Revelations” so enduring, and allowed it to speak in a completely contemporary tongue.
Talents of that magnitude don’t announce themselves every day, and Brown reasonably became a great new choreographic hope. But last weekend’s engagement of Brown’s own New York-based company, Evidence, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts worryingly suggested that Brown’s promise is not being fully realized. To be sure, his work should be seen more often in San Francisco, and in longer runs (these two performances, presented by the center’s performing arts series, sold out). But this was not the revelation of a bold American voice at its most articulate or eloquent. Most of the works looked like they had nothing much specific to say.
If speech metaphors come to mind, it’s because Brown’s movement language is so dazzling, and never more stunning than in “Grace,” which the exceptional eight-member company danced as a closer. Imagine if heaven were a New York City nightclub, where the angels danced their way toward salvation to bass-thumping house music. Now imagine their steps seamlessly blend the earth-consecrating stampings of African tribal forms, the rhythmic fierceness of hip-hop, the polish and expansiveness of modern technique, and the ecstatic throes of gospel. Can’t picture it? Then you know why Brown is such a phenomenon.
The problem is that even the most arresting new aesthetic, if rolled out by the yard and not anchored to ideas or shaped by formalism, becomes mind-numbing after a while. The only significant way to differentiate the two newer dances on the program, 2005’s “Order My Steps” and 2003’s “Come Ye,” is to say that one was danced mostly to eerie string music by Terry Riley (heard taped), and the other to Nina Simone tunes; that one was costumed in street clothes, the other in white T-shirts and denim pants.”
Click here for the full review.