Due to this, and also because there is no question that British contemporary dance is still awfully ‘white’, it is delightful to see a triple bill of Brown’s work presented by Brooklyn-based Evidence.
First up was One Shot: First Glance Brown’s newest work but, unfortunately, also his weakest.
It is inspired by, and features, photographs by Charles ‘Tennis’ Harris, an American photo-journalist famous for capturing a story in just one shot.
In the dance, the photographs have been cropped further, so the audience only see faces, taken entirely out of context. This poses an interesting question: is what you see in the first shot, or the first instance, truly representative of someone? When we see the full photographs, how much more do we understand of their origin, their character, their lives?
Although Brown combines different styles to create his own distinctive vocabulary, African dance is certainly the most notable in his movements. But the choreography in One Shot did not feel sincere, like he really meant it: the dancers looked almost amateur, even when it is clear that they are very gifted dancers. The middle section, where African movements were mixed with social dance styles during the jazz age, did translate a lot better, however.
The fusion of styles is much more effectively executed in Order My Steps, and it is here that you can really see how the lineage of African dance has trickled into the urban dance styles of today, from an undulation of the body to a shake of the knees.
Bob Marley’s War is featured in the piece, and the arms play a crucial part in responding to this: they cover up the dancers’ despair, they rise high to surrender, they are chained behind like prisoners, or one reaches up to seek help.
But this is also contrasted with the concept of religion two essentially opposing but co-existing ideas. A voice tells us he wants to be able to tell the difference between God and the devil; Order My Steps explores the dichotomies humanity faces: good and evil, war and peace.
Order My Steps also works as a great showcase of each individual dancer’s talent, with many small sections of solo work. The opening section, an almost textbook contemporary sequence performed to perfection by Lilli-Anne Tai, is nothing short of beautiful, even if a little out of place stylistically.
If Order My Steps presents the conflicts of religion, then Grace is a wholehearted celebration of God. There is a slightly bizarre, but utterly enjoyable, mid-section: all house music and booming bass, with full-on pop choreography that would not look out of place in a popular music/street dance context. But the choreography’s African heritage is still apparent, making Grace the most successful of the three works in showcasing Brown’s fusion style.
The story of Grace is of an angel’s descent on earth, and her mission to help people understand the compassion of God. At times, and particularly towards the end of the piece, this is taken all too literally the dancers’ costumes change from red to white, they embrace each other as a sign of love which is a shame, as most of the time the dance embodies exactly what it says: grace.