Demetrius Burns performs in Ronald K. Brown / Evidence's "The Equality of Night and Day." (Photo by Christopher Duggan)
Despite loads of accolades over decades, Ronald K. Brown / Evidence didn’t always convince me of its greatness. While loving some of his dances, often for the choice of music and the joyousness they wrought, I found there to be a sameness to his work.
And while I do think his African-inspired dance vocabulary is not as wide as some, I must admit I’m now a true believer in the power of Ronald K. Brown / Evidence.
The transformation came during his company’s appearance on Thursday night at Jacob’s Pillow. This was one of the most electric I’ve seen at the dance haven in 30 years. The dancers of the company were his most accomplished – technically searing and engaging – offering up the clearest take on Brown’s vision of a compassionate, humane world. Obviously, two years of COVID-19 shutdowns when the dancers spent more time in the studio than on the staged have honed their skills to a point where Brown’s expressions are unclouded.
Not only that, his message of the absurdity and damage inherent in the racial divide was relevant and urgent. One couldn’t ignore its power in the world premiere of his “The Equality of Night and Day,” that plays at the Pillow through the weekend. The work is set to music composed and played live by jazz pianist Jason Moran. His emotive music was intermingled with the voice of activist Angela Davis who described a society in which Black people are labeled criminals and sent to prison as another form of enslavement.
The piece is also timely, as it speaks to conservativism, which is today reassembling our country – stripping away women’s rights and regulations on the environment while ensuring more guns can be concealed on the streets of New York. It’s a frightening time and Brown’s dancers reflect that in their compelling movement in which can be seen as a both an interpretation of reality and a desperate plea.
“The Equality of Night and Day” begins with a single dancer, Joyce Edwards, taking center stage. In a costume that flows about her arms and legs, she appears to be moving through water, swiftly reaching for firm ground to stand upon.
The ensemble joins in a stark formation, like an army protecting her, as Davis’ talks about the indignities and injustices heaped onto people of color. One of the most powerful sections is one in which, Demetrius Burns is singled out and the ensemble encircles him, emphasizing the cage that surrounds young men of color.
Moran’s playing is fresh, at time, anxious and understated – likely the state of mind that many Black people maintain to survive.
All together, this was an impressive and moving work that will only grow in stature as the years progress.
Brown’s offerings at the Pillow also include his energetic “Gatekeepers,” a nod to ancestors in the afterlife, which earned a mid-show standing ovation. The evening concluded with “Upside Down,” a section of a larger work that also stunned with a vibrant glow.
Ronald K. Brown / Evidence is sure to please and, more importantly, to think.
This program will be repeated at 2 and 8 p.m. July 2 and 2 p.m. July 3.