Evidence On Earth

by Rod Gailes OBC

The man loves music, and it shows. Michelle N'degeocello, Ledisi, even a Lalah Hathaway cover of Nancy Wilson’s “When Did You Leave Heaven”: all these and more pack the iPod playlists of Ronald K. Brown, founder and artistic director of Evidence, A Dance Company. This noted choreographer is known as much for dynamic music choices as for the choreography that breathes through them. “As much as I’m tryna fight it, I’m actually listening to Keyshia Cole,” he chuckles. The creation of  “high art” in tandem with consuming the art of the common man is not new to the dance visionary. “This high art thing ends up being about class. I’ve created four pieces for the Ailey company, but I’m not the pulled up skinny elitist. I don’t carry that. So in that way I am a bridge.”

The building of said bridge started early. Brown reflects on his early inspirations. “At 18 I was in this circle of writers. Going to see Audre Lorde often. Hanging out with Donald Woods, Craig Harris. (Lorde)… was always asking the audience, ‘Are you doing your work?’ I’m 18 years old (at the time). What is my work?”

As it turns out that “work” has been to give “encouragement the way my mother gave me that encouragement. And ultimately to build a space where the company does that,” Brown insists. The company’s very name was inspired by ideas brought to light during this time. “These writers were doing work around identity, leaving proof that you were here, and leaving a legacy. And I decided, WE are evidence. We need to walk in the world with a sense of accountability and responsibility because we are evidence of all the people who have invested in us. Ok. That’s the name of the company,” Brown remembers fondly.

 “When people come to see the company I want them to see a reflection of themselves. I want them to see the human condition and that it is connected to something. I’m actually trying to show you bodies, all sizes with their spirits free, beautiful in all the different colors.”

Photo: courtesy of Evidence, A Dance Company

 Founded in 1985 by the then 19 year old wunderkind, Evidence celebrates over 25 years of ground breaking dance with the premiere of “On Earth Together,” a dance musing set to the music of Motown Legend, Stevie Wonder.

“3 or 4 years ago a presenter in LA met Stevie Wonder and he expressed interest in doing something with dance. She mentioned it to me and… I said let me figure out what it could be. Miss Jamison (of Alvin Ailey fame) had used some of his music…but no one had done a whole piece,” says Brown. With only two solos to Wonder’s music in hand, Brown began the process of crafting what will eventually be an evening of dance set entirely to “STEVIE”.

Ironically, it was Brown’s composition teacher, Bessie Schomberg, who had issued the challenge years ago lamenting, “I wish you could use just one artist for a piece.” So here it is, and who knew it would be, arguably, THEE ARTIST to whose music he’d be creating that piece?

Ron Brown Photo: Basil Childers
“On Earth Together” premieres February 8-13 at The Joyce Theater in Manhattan before making an epic journey into the stratosphere. Following the Joyce run, plans for the piece expand in May and June of 2011 when Brown intends to “play around with having some of the music sung live.” Vocal artists Kevin Everett, Gordon Chambers, Caron Wheeler, and Mackie Brown  (daughter of multi-hyphenate artist/activist Oscar Brown, Jr.) are all rumored to be on tap to add a live presence to the lyrics & music of our era’s master songsmith.

With a 6 week workshop/run planned for Brooklyn’s new Bric House space in 2012, a US festival tour and a “sit-down” theater stint, we are quite possibly looking at a “Fela” style transition many believe will land Brown’s show squarely on Broadway and beyond.

Culture commentator, Rod Gailes OBC is a writer/director for the stage and screen interested in building artistic fraternity with artists across disciplines. Follow him at: 
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  1. Anonymous1:07 PM

    Great article. It is good to see that artist are bridging the gap between the elite and popular. That's Art for everyone.

  2. Thanks for reading! Art IS for Everyone, and it's never too late to begin exposing ourselves to it whether it be "high" or "popular" forms. I took my grandmother (who is in her 80's to the opera). She had ever been in her whole life and loved it! My young cousins & mentees started going to Ailey & Broadway with me at very early ages. Performance art should be a part of our lives. Concert Dance to Stevie Wonder??? Now that is a gateway Drug for sure!

  3. great article. i"m a huge stevie wonder fan, and this definitely sounds like a interesting concept. cant wait to see it.

  4. great article. sounds like a great concept. stevie wonder is such a great artist to explore dance with.


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