Celebrated choreographer Ronald K. Brown will bring his African-American based dance company, Evidence, to Princeton on Friday for an 8 p.m. performance at .
Combining Cuban, Caribbean, West African and modern American dance, Brown's company explores human struggles, tragedies and triumphs. Friday's program will include Brown's latest work, On Earth Together, set to music by Stevie Wonder, and Grace, originally created for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre.
The New York Times recently said of Brown, "He has emerged in recent years as one of the strongest, most distinctive choreographers around.”
As a living legend, Brown’s thumbprint on the dance community is distinct. But, interestingly, his path to dance almost did not happen.
Brown was born in 1966 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
Beginning at a young age, Ron showed he was a gifted dancer. His mother, Alice Brown, naturally, saw her son’s early talent in dance, even when Ron did not. Brown recalls that only after seeing an Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre performance at age 9 was his interest in dancing and choreography finally piqued.
“I was awed by the performance,” said Brown. He recalled one particular number, a reenacted church service performed with fans and in church hats. “That’s when it clicked to me, ‘Ah, so you can actually tell stories through dance,’” said Brown.
When he returned home from the performance, he went to work choreographing his first piece: It was just he and one prop, a chair. He performed it for his family. Excited, his mother enrolled him in a dance class at Restoration Dance Academy.
But the excitement over what was intended to be the beginning of his early dance training quickly dissolved. “I took one class, and all I remember seeing was a room full of girls,” said Brown. That day, Brown decided to leave the idea of dancing behind him.
But dancing refused to leave him. It followed him right into JHS 35 and Edward R. Murrow High School, where he inevitably emerged as a talented choreographer of dance routines for the schools' talent shows and plays. Not until the very end of his high school career did he finally decide to give dancing and choreography another serious go.
In 1985, at age 19, Ron Brown formed Evidence Dance Company. He also went on to train at the Mary Anthony Dance Studio in Manhattan and with Jennifer Muller, in whose company he danced for four years. Other teachers and mentors include the famed Judith Jamison, Bessie Schönberg and Ann Carlson.
Meanwhile, with Evidence, Brown began to build his own following, branding for himself a unique style that blended American dance club movement with a variety of dances influenced by various cultures of the African Diaspora.
In addition to his work with Evidence, Brown has created work for the African American Dance Ensemble, Philadanco, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Ailey II, Cinque Folkloric Dance Theater, Jennifer Muller/The Works, and Jeune Ballet d’Afrique Noire.
Also, he has collaborated with such artists as composer/designer Omotayo Wunmi Olaiya, the late writer Craig G. Harris, director Ernie McClintock’s Jazz Actors Theater, choreographers Patricia Hoffbauer and Rokiya Kone, and composers Robert Een, Oliver Lake, Bernadette Speech, David Simons, and Don Meissner.
Brown has received numerous awards and fellowships including a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in Choreography, a National Endowment for the Arts Choreographer’s Fellowship, a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in choreography, a Black Theater Alliance Award, and an AUDELCO (Black Theatre Award) for his choreography for Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats, originally produced by the McCarter Theater and presented off-Broadway in 2003.
Most recently, Brown was commissioned as lead choreographer for the “reimagined” Broadway revival of The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, which opened at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on January 12, 2012. The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, directed by Diane Paulus, features a cast led by four-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald (Ragtime, "Private Practice") as Bess, Drama Desk nominee Norm Lewis (Les Misérables, Sondheim on Sondheim) as Porgy and two-time Tony nominee David Alan Grier (Race) as Sporting Life.
Even with his incredibly busy and exhausting tour schedule with Evidence– now a company of international acclaim – and work with Porgy and Bess, Brown continues to teach a once-weekly contemporary dance class at Restoration, where he also serves as an artist/teacher-in-residence for the Youth Arts Academy.
“It’s important to me that I continue working with young people. I want to be a part of instilling a comfort and confidence in them for dancing. Because as a young boy, I remember how it felt to be unsure about whether this was something I really wanted to do. But there’s nothing more fulfilling than seeing that moment when they discover that connection with their mind-body-spirit, a connection with themselves.”
A world traveler, Brown still resides in Bed-Stuy: “It’s funny, because even before all the recent hoopla over Bed-Stuy and its brownstones, I’ve always loved this neighborhood— even in the 80s and 90s, when it was unpopular to love Bed-Stuy,” said Brown. “I’ve always thought this community was beautiful and the people in it were beautiful."
For more than 25 years, Brown has given continual power and definition to the art of pan-global spiritual connectivity: the remarkable ability to create universal language by turning something intangible—the essence of who we are as human beings—into something tangible— physical expression through movement.
And for this remarkable ability, Brown credits his mother: “If a person could give you faith, then this is what she did. She inspired me to have faith... To go forward to dream and create.”