For the past two years, Ronald K. Brown/Evidence has spent creative time at Williams College. While there, he and his band of eight dancers enjoyed the privilege of uninterrupted time and space while the community soaked up his artistic teachings and, consequently, inspiration.
This symbiotic relationship culminated on Friday night with a joyful celebration at the college’s ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance. There, Brown and company carried audiences up and away into a world where an optimistic belief in the righteousness of the human spirit soared. And it was uplifting.
The program was titled and centered on “The Subtle One,” a work that was partly perfected at Williams. A collaboration with jazz pianist Jason Moran, the work echoed many of Brown’s previous dances. A fusion of African and modern dance, it underscored Brown’s firm belief in the larger, unseen universe that lives in all of us. “The Subtle One” spoke of human divinity.
A septet, costumed by Keiko Voltaire in flowing white garb that was accented with red and gold, began quietly with a trio of dancers slowly moving toward center stage. During their stroll, they stopped to bend over with one leg elevated as if in flight, looking down to pinpoint their landing spots.
More dancers joined the trio until the stage was a billowing bolt of white. The dancers never touched. Rather, they individually tiptoed and reached as if seeking celestial intervention. Clearly, these were angels whose duties were to bless or protect. While beautiful, the Moran’s music did not always match the sensibilities of the dance. At times, they coalesced; at others, they were at odds. The boldness of the music overrode the hallowed ground that Brown was aiming for.
Near the end, as the dancers slowly moved to the wings, the dance seemed complete. But dancers returned for a romping conclusion that jarred. Brown was more true to the music than his vision, which is a surprising error for a choreographer as seasoned as him.
Brown was not tied to anything but his own artistic wisdom in the night’s other two works. And the payoff for the audience was big.
In “March,” dancers Sherman Wood and Taylor Jones performed to a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King. In it, King spoke of the absurdity of religion being used to promote white supremacy. The dancers, wearing black tunics with what looked to be nooses around their necks, appeared bridled — unable to unleash their full potential. Wood jumped and reached in place while Jones slowly circled the stage, head down.
As King’s powerful words faded, Bobby McFerrin’s rendering of the 23rd Psalm moved in to empower the dancers. It ended with both men eating up the space with bright hope and confidence.
The night concluded with one of Brown’s best works, “On Earth.” This tribute to Stevie Wonder’s uplifting music is apropos for Brown, whose message runs parallel. To hits like “Living for the City,” “I’ll be Loving You for Always” and “Higher Ground,” the dancers, including Brown and members of the community, tore up the floor, Afro-dance style, in an infectious spectacle that had the audience dancing in their seats.
This glorifying finale signaled the deep connection and love among the Williams College community, Brown and his dancers. Here’s to hoping the connection can continue.