RONALD K. BROWN/EVIDENCE choreography by Brown, presented by Harbourfront Centre at the Premiere Dance Theatre (207 Queens Quay West), through Saturday (April 22) at 8 pm. $21-$38, some discounts. 416-973-4000 Rating: NNNNN
For choreographer Ronald K. Brown, dance is a way of keeping history alive. No wonder his company's name is Evidence.
Two of the three pieces he's performing in Toronto through this weekend are tied to specific events. One was created during the U.S. Army's invasion of Afghanistan and while the situation in Iraq was blowing up.
Another was inspired by 9/11. Later this month, Brown's travelling to New Orleans, and no doubt some powerful work about the haves and have-nots - particularly in the African-American community - will emerge from that.
"My destination is peace and compassion," says the Brooklyn-born dance artist on the phone from Manhattan, where he's grabbing a turkey cheeseburger during the after-work rush hour. Doesn't sound too peaceful there.
"In the West, we're so caught up in the self. 'What do I have and need to make me feel valuable?' Other people are less important. We don't care about their situation. But I think the theatre's a place where you can be reminded about others. Dance, in particular, is a space to engage in empathy."
Religion suffuses all of Brown's work on the bill. Order My Steps grew out of a conversation he had with writer Chad Boseman about Psalm 119. Boseman's text is inspired by his crack-addict brother who went on to become a minister.
Music, too, is an important part of Brown's shows, and in this program he draws from the work of Fela Kuti, Nina Simone and Bob Marley among others.
"Both Kuti and Simone were social-political activists and talked about the situation of their people to the rest of the world," he says. "I can't imagine what it must have been like for Simone, who performed during the civil rights era. You arrive at a theatre through the back door and then perform for an audience that looks nothing like you. How could you make a career out of that?"
Simone's song Come Ye gives the title to Brown's piece about 9/11 and America's reaction.
"I had a hard time understanding that 'We're going to find you and kill you, Bin Laden' attitude," says Brown. "How was that even in our reality, given so much destruction already?
"Come Ye tries to show you that people are connected all over the globe. If I'm not free, then you aren't either."
Also on the bill is Brown's piece Grace, which he created for the Alvin Ailey Dance Company back in 1999.
"I remember when I created that, I was overcome with emotion," he says. "I grew up dancing in a kitchen in Brooklyn and waking up the neighbours. How did I get to the Alvin Ailey?
"I started a dance company at 19, but had no idea how much work it would take or where this journey would lead me. I just loved choreography. So for this piece, I came up with the idea of grace, with Duke Ellington's arrangement of God Coming Down forming the belly of it.
"When I see it now, it's like a gift from God."