Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Joy at The Joyce: Celebrating Cabuag and EVIDENCE

Arcell Cabuag of Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE
(photo: Bill Hebert)
Above: Cabuag (left) with Ronald K. Brown
(photo: Julieta Cervantes)
Below: Brown with Annique Roberts of Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE
(photo: Ayodele Casel)

Two decades ago, a Filipino-American dancer from California joined Brooklyn's Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE, going on to become not only one of Brown's most iconic and beloved performers but also a dancemaker, educator, administrator (Associate Artistic Director) and Bessie winner in his own right. Last evening, Brown paid joyful tribute to his colleague, Arcell Cabuag, sharing the stage with him in Den of Dreams during the launch of the troupe's season at The Joyce Theater.

In addition to this new duet, opening night included three selections from Brown's repertory--Come Ye (2002); March, an excerpt from Lessons (1995), part of Carnegie Hall’s The ’60s: The Years that Changed America festival; and Upside Down, an excerpt from Destiny (1998).

The most thrilling moments of all came in the finale of Come Ye, set to Fela Anikulapo Kuti's furious protest song, "Coffin for Head of State." The work's opening passages offer viewers an uncluttered, transparent tutorial on Brown style--a hybrid movement style reflecting the legacy of being and dancing Black across two hemispheres and many cities. But it is, the last section, with Fela's insistent, irresistible Afrobeat, where we can watch the handsomely-trained ensemble take off as never before, at the top of its game.

Brown is less an assured shaper of theatrical landscape than a liberator and enlivener of the dancing body from head to feet. His landscape is there--in the roiling, rippling shoulders, the pitch of the back, the give of the knees, the expansive pumping, slashing arms, the way the body sings the music it hears and tells of the multitudes it contains. In each body, actually--among the many individual bodies on stage--we see a village, many villages, Fela's avenging warrior angels. This finale, a masterpiece, is one of the most beautiful ways to connect with Brown's aesthetic, to connect with his commitment--to connect with dance, period. If I were a professional dancer, I would beg to live inside this work and crave nothing more.

Den of Dreams is a sweet moment of "I'm here to learn from you...I'm here to follow you...and, now, look at us: we are brothers." Sweet, too, to see Brown take the stage again (as he also did as part of the corps in Upside Down, scheduled only for opening night). As choreography, this brief duet might not hold its own, but it clearly speaks of memory, times of testing and response, comradeship and a journey set upon, continued and continuing with respect and affection--feelings the audience and I also share for these two veteran artists.

Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE continues at The Joyce through February 10 with performance tonight at 7:30 and Thursday through Saturday at 8pm with a Saturday family matinee at 2pm. For information and tickets, click here.

The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (at 19th Street), Manhattan

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