Ronald K. Brown: Evidence performed its amazing "Grace" at Bard College's Fisher Center.
Going to a Ronald K. Brown/Evidence: A Dance Company can often feel like going to church. Artistic Director Brown always infuses a spiritual component, one that asks the dancers and the audience to recognize the magic of the divine in the world in which we struggle.
Sunday’s showing of “Grace” and “Mercy,” at Bard College’s Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, is a prime example. Both works are like prayers, “Grace,” a robust praise, and “Mercy,” a quiet hymn.
I preferred “Grace,” which for the Bard showing was reworked to include to the infectious sounds of Peven Everett. His vocals and the rambunctious blends of jazz and R&B elevated this already blockbuster of a work to one that sent its 13 dancers and the audience soaring to the heavens.
The worked opened with a dancer parading directly center stage from an opening between musicians. Dressed in white, she invokes a call to God to watch over her people – and with a tap to her heart, she reaches and jumps straight up as if to capture a ride on the invisible wings of angels.
As the music builds, dancers join her. Dressed in either white or red, they swagger in and out, offering some gesture of devotion or celebration before sauntering away again. Appearing super cool, they move in and through well-defined moving lines. The constantly shifting of patterns kept the audience riveted.
Everett and his tight band along with singer Gordon Chambers also held sway. Their giant talents and honesty touched everyone in the room – bestowing on Brown’s “Grace” a punch that it couldn’t have achieved otherwise.
The work was so inspiring that it stole the limelight from “Mercy,” a world premiere that followed. While that too was accompanied by lofty live music, performed by its ingenious composer Meshell Ndegeocello, the piece felt humdrum.
Part of the problem is Brown’s movement vocabulary, which is limited. The dancers are essentially performing the same dance – "Mercy" is more subtle of course – to different music.
While narrow in scope, Brown's style is uniquely his. A seamless blend of African and modern dance, his brand is instantly recognizable. It’s also appealing, in a sweet, heart-felt way. However, I often leave a Brown performance feeling that the choreographer leans too heavily on the music, asking it to distinguish the personality of the dance -- rather than allowing the dance to reveal itself.
A work like “Grace” is so captivating that it hardly matters. “Mercy,” unfortunately, is another case.