The imaginative, complex and beautiful dance created by Ron K. Brown and his company, Evidence Dance Company, has intrigued audiences across the country for more than 20 years. By blending African, modern, ballet and hip-hop techniques, Brown has created an innovative style of his own and uses it to tell stories about the African diaspora through dance.
This week, Brown, hailed by the New York Times as “one of the most profound choreographers of his modern generation,” will be traveling to Asheville with his acclaimed company to perform their latest work, One Shot, at Diana Wortham Theatre.
One Shot was inspired by the work of Charles “Tiney” Harris, an African-American photographer who complied a great collections of photographs in an urban, African-American community. From 1936 to 1975, he took pictures of everything from neighborhood baseball games to pivotal events in the civil-rights movement, and his work is said to capture the dynamic spirit of the black community in Pittsburg.
Harris’ “images are very rich, he was able to capture a great feeling of hope in his work,” says Brown, describing how Harris’ work inspired him as a choreographer. “I tried to absorb as much of his work as I could. Anything that was open for me to see, I would go to. There were hundreds and hundreds of photos to go though, but the museums were so supportive. I was especially fascinated by the young people, and by the great pictures he took of people at church, singing in the choir.”
When Charles Harris Jr. found out Brown was creating a dance piece based on the work of his father, he called Brown and offered his assistance. “Gifts like these just kept coming,” says Brown.
His upcoming concert will begin with a 12-minute excerpt of One Shot, and will open with a powerful image: “We’ve deconstructed [many of Harris’] photographs so you see these faces and eyes kind of floating towards the audience, and theirs a feeling of the ancestors coming to the space,” Brown says.
“Another image that we will use in Asheville is of people at this place called the Crawford Grill, a bar where after the jazz musicians came to the big hall in Pittsburg, they would go to this kind of a dive,” he continues. “Inside they have fur coats on — their looking very dapper — and there’s maybe one drink on the bar, so it’s not like they had a lot of money or there was a big party, but they were dressed to the nine. In that section the music is by Billy Strayhorn — and there is this kind of decadence that I wanted to show, because in that time period, regardless of how much money you had, when you stepped into the world you had to dress your best, and I though that was nice for us to remember, caus’ you know how young people dress today,” says Brown with a heavy chuckle.
Evidence will be performing two other pieces called Ebony Magazine and High Life for the Asheville concert. Ebony Magazine is a 22-minute piece set to music by Wunmi Olaiya. High Life is a 33-minute piece that is set to music by Oscar Brown Jr., Mikki Giovanni, The JB’s, The Nkengas, The Ashantis and Fela Anikulapo.
“Ebony Magazine is a piece I choreographed in 1996 with [the] Cleo Parker Robinson [Dance Company] in Denver, and it’s a piece about the being preoccupied with the façade of beauty, and realizing that it more about the inside,” Brown says. “The last piece on the program is High Life, a piece about migration that [was inspired] by an exhibit I saw in Denver on the great migration from the South to the North.” Set to a music and style that came out of West Africa, High Life explores questions like: What happens when people try to find a better life — where do they end up, and why?
The thoughtful and provocative work by Ron K. Brown/Evidence Dance Company uses a fusion of dance styles to explore the experience of the African-American community, and because of this exploration Brown’s work is rich with meaning, with a sense of journey and discovery. As Brown says of his upcoming concert: “I think the evening will be one where, when you leave, the spirits will be lifted.”
Who: Ron K. Brown/ Evidence presents “One Shot”
What: An African and modern-dance concert by an award-winning choreographer
Where: Diana Wortham Theatre
When: Tuesday and Wednesday, March 25 and 26 (8 p.m. $32/ $30 seniors/ $27 students/ $10 student rush day-of-the-show. www.dwtheatre.com or 257-4530)