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The Carolina Theatre of Durham is a good moderate-sized venue for many types of performance, including dance, so it’s nice to see them booking a group like Ronald K. Brown and Evidence, a Dance Company, which is just the right size for the facility. Brown and his company have done a lot of work in Durham, in the community as well as at the American Dance Festival, and the concert was well-attended by the kind of mixed-race crowd that sets Durham apart from its neighbors.
Brown founded his company in 1985 to promote “the understanding of the human experience in the African Diaspora through dance and storytelling.” He has developed a fascinating style both liquid and explosive, which combines elements of modern, African and social forms in a rich broth of spiritual awareness. Brown himself is beautiful to watch — he’s sort of an anti-star, closing the distance between performer and viewer by making his dance look completely uncontrived and natural. His dancers, for all their prowess, look like regular people. Sometimes this relaxed, comfortable naturalism conflicts with the dramatic energy needed to lead us through a story.
Order My Steps, from 2005, has this problem to some degree. It is very explicitly about something — a man fighting addiction. The dancing is accompanied by spoken word as well as various music by the Kronos Quartet and by Bob Marley. The choreography is very powerful in places, clearly communicating struggle, success, reversal, determination, backsliding, tenuous victory. It’s a long twisty road from chaos and despair to the succor of order…but occasionally the dance seems to wander a little more than strictly necessary. Maybe it was just this performance, because I didn’t feel that way when Evidence performed it at the 2006 ADF. Possibly my concentration was broken by people in the audience taking flash photographs.
After intermission came the 2011 On Earth Together, danced to a medley of Stevie Wonder songs, which when seen at the American Dance Festival in 2011, had wandered way too much. This performance of the piece was much tighter, and made you feel the blessed bonds of community. There was some really remarkable dancing, especially by Annique Roberts, and it would have been a glorious dance experience — except for the many, many people taking flash photographs and shooting video with their phones. Someone sitting in the front row of the pit was holding up her phone so that everyone in the auditorium had a lit screen sticking up into view over the edge of the stage. It was the most deplorable selfish behavior (so much for community love) I’ve ever seen at the theater, and it ruined the concert.