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Ronald K. Brown/Evidence and Philadanco at Wolf Trap

The Filene Center of Wolf Trap presented Ronald K. Brown/Evidence and Philadanco in a five-dance program last Tuesday. New York-based Evidence opened the evening with Come Ye, a dance created by the company’s founder, Ronald K. Brown. Come Ye is a call for peace and a tribute to people who “have no fear, and still have hope and love.” The dance is set to three songs by jazz and blues vocalist Nina Simon and traditional African tunes composed by Fela Kuti. Brown’s choreography is intense and dynamic, featuring soaring jumps, powerful spins, and turns. The dancers breezed through each element with astonishing tempo and vigor. The lighting, masterfully designed by Brenda Gray, contributed to the success of the work.

Evidence and Philadanco danced together in the world premiere of Ronald K. Brown’s For Truth, commissioned by the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts. This dance is a trilogy united by the common theme of spirituality and personal quest for the truth. The first part, titled Your Steps Have Been Ordered, was performed by the Evidence ensemble to Fred Hammond’s gospel. The Philadanco dancers took the stage in the second part, The Chosen, and the two companies combined their forces and talents for the final scene, Truth Don' Die. The choreography showcased Brown’s trademark dance vocabulary: distinctive torso, arm, and knee movements; a blend of stillness and slow gestures with fierce energy and rapid moves. Even though dancers were dancing their hearts out, the work lacked a sense of wholeness and meaning. For Truth seemed like a set of three unrelated pieces without logical transition from one to another. I expected a powerful and emotional finale: alas, the dance ended as unexpectedly as it started. Unattractive costumes and problems with the sound during the performance did not help.

“I just let myself dance as the man that I am, and that’s where I create from,” once said Ronald K. Brown. In his solo Better Days: Sole, set to solemn gospel music by Herbert Brewster, he shared with the audience his most intimate, spiritual feelings and thoughts. Brown combined slow steps, motionless poses, and smooth lines with sharp and abrupt movements, creating an array of compelling images. This three-minute monologue seemed like a prayer or testament. This dance could have been a perfect curtain closer (and also a tribute to the choreographer, since it was Mr. Brown’s 40th birthday.)

But all in all, it was a Philadanco’s night. The Philadelphia-based troupe performed two contrasting dances which the viewers enjoyed the most. Created in 1971 by George Faison, Suite Otis is a homage to a singer Otis Redding. His classic songs provided a soundtrack for this beautifully choreographed and brilliantly performed suite of six ministories. Dressed in vibrant magenta-colored costumes, the ensemble of dancers revealed a fascinating kaleidoscope of emotional imagery: couples were falling in love, breaking up... and reconciling again. The choreographer skillfully mixed classical ballet steps with modern dance movements, creating an elegant and yet electrifying show. The audience’s favorite was a duet performed by Odara Jabali-Nash and Tommie W. Evans to the song My Lover’s Prayer. It’s a charming and humorous dance where the lovers are trying to answer a question: “What can the matter be?” with their relationship.

Enemy Behind the Gates is a Philadanco “show-off piece.” This dance was created for Philadanco by a former Alvin Ailey dancer Christopher Huggins and premiered in 2001. Pulsing rhythms of Steves Reich’s score established a dynamic atmosphere for this tour de force of motion. A squad of dancers, clothed in black with red-lined costumes, was running on and off stage as if participating in a military exercise. Each mini-performance (solo, duet, or ensemble) lasted no more than 15 seconds and was danced with unstoppable energy and stunning speed.

The next dance performance at Wolf Trap will be on Tuesday, July 25 at 8:30 p.m. featuring Noche Flamenca, "one of Spain's most successful flamenco companies of dancers, singers, and guitarists."

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