Evidence: A Dance Company in "Grace" and "Mercy" with Live Music, July 5–7 at Bard SummerScape
Evidence: A Dance Company
Bard SummerScape Presents Evidence: A Dance Company in World Premiere of Grace and Mercy, a New SummerScape Commission from Choreographer Ronald K. Brown with Live Music by Meshell Ndegeocello and Others, July 5-7
“Mr. Brown’s meshing of African and modern dance is like an electrical charge.” – The New York Times
Evidence, A Dance Company and its founder and artistic director, Ronald K. Brown, make their Bard SummerScape debut with the world premiere of Grace and Mercy. A new SummerScape commission, this two-part program opens with Grace (live), a newly conceived version of Brown’s soulful masterpiece Grace, originally created in 1999 for the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, where it is still one of the most popular works in the repertory today. To celebrate its 20th anniversary, Grace will for the first time be danced entirely to live music, performed by house and R&B artist Peven Everett and others. Evidence completes its double-bill with the world premiere of Mercy, Brown’s new companion piece to Grace (live), which is set to a brand-new score written and performed live by ten-time Grammy-nominated rock/soul singer-songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello. Grace and Mercy’s three performances take place on July 5–7 in the Frank Gehry-designed Fisher Center on Bard College’s glorious Hudson River campus.
The work is performed by Evidence company members and guest artists, including Michael Battle, Kirven Douthit-Boyd, Arcell Cabuag, Coral Dolphin, Valeriane Louisy Louis-Joseph, Hannah Richardson, Annique Roberts, Keon Thoulouis, Jiamond Watson, Patrick Wright, and Alvin Ailey principal Matthew Rushing, who performed in the original cast of Grace 20 years ago.
Grace and Mercy features design by two of Brown’s long-time collaborators, with sets and lighting by Tsubasa Kamei and costumes by Wunmi Olaiya. Joining Ndegeocello and Everett are an ensemble of seven musicians, including three members of Ndegeocello’s band: Chris Bruce on guitar, Abraham Rounds on percussion, and Jake Sherman on keyboards.
Using movement to promote community in African American culture and acquaint audiences with the beauty of traditional African rhythms and forms, Ronald K. Brown, whose string of honors includes an Astaire Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship, is one of contemporary choreography’s most important voices. He has created numerous works for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Ballet Hispánico, and many others, as well as for Evidence, A Dance Company, which he founded in 1985. Known for its seamless integration of traditional African dance with contemporary choreography and spoken word, Brown’s Brooklyn-based company has appeared throughout the United States as well as elsewhere in the Americas, Africa, and Europe. Dance magazine observes:
“Evidence has become a mainstay in the modern dance world and Brown is now considered a vanguard among choreographers fusing Western contemporary dance with movement from the African diaspora.”
The New York Times identifies the hallmarks of Brown’s work as the following:
“Deep, spiritual seriousness. A sophisticated mastery of stage space. Music that makes you want to move. A vocabulary, drawn from many parts of the African diaspora, that Mr. Brown has developed into a personal language that’s flexible, richly expressive and irresistibly kinetic.”
As the paper marvels: “If there is any company working today whose dancers pack a more sophisticated and vibrant kinetic punch than those of Ronald K. Brown/Evidence, I can’t think of it.”
Blending modern dance and West African idioms to depict a spiritual journey to the promised land, Grace is a “1999 classic” in which “the fireball intensity of the dancers … is astounding, something to be sensed as well as seen” (New York Times). As in many of Brown’s works, the work’s movement alternates fluidly between extremes, a serene solo for an angelic figure giving way to the whirling and pounding of multiple dancers reminiscent of urban warriors. Brown’s varied musical choices reflect his vision for the piece. Duke Ellington’s jazz standard Come Sunday provides spiritual grounding, Fela Kuti’s Afro-Pop beats evoke West African and African American traditions, and Roy Davis’s ethereal dance hit Gabriel conjures a contemporary yet timeless ambience. Gabriel was produced in collaboration with Peven Everett, who sang and played trumpet and keyboards on its original 1996 release. “One of the most understated, energised and passionate singers around” (BBC Music), Everett serves as lead vocalist and music director for Bard’s world premiere presentation of Grace (live).
To complement Grace (live), Evidence gives the first performances of Mercy, which Brown created especially for SummerScape 2019. A companion piece to Grace, Mercy blends movement and music to lead both the performers and audience on a journey toward compassion and the joy of redemption. Brown explains:
“When I think of ‘mercy’ as the ‘forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within their power to punish or harm,’ I am also charged with the desire to express how we can offer compassion to each other. It’s been a great and joyous challenge to see how the two dances on the program embody these strong emotions with the destination being a state of liberation, bliss and peace. I look forward to sharing the gifts of the dancer’s artistry.”
Mercy’s original score is the work of singer-songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello – “a visionary and a sensualist who sings with notes of honey, molasses and tar” (New York Times) – who will be on hand to perform its world premiere. Ndegeocello’s music draws on an array of influences, including funk, soul, R&B, hip-hop, reggae, rock, and jazz. In sync with Brown’s work, it is bound by a lyrical, spiritual search for love, justice, respect, resolution, and happiness. Her 1996 release Peace Beyond Passion was named one of NPR’s “150 Greatest Albums Made by Women,” and her most recent recording, Ventriloquism, scored the artist her tenth Grammy nomination.
* * * * *
SummerScape has long produced and premiered significant dance productions, including commissions from choreographers Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs, Bill T. Jones, John Heginbotham, and Mark Morris. Last season’s world premiere of Four Quartets, commissioned from choreographer Pam Tanowitz, composer Kaija Saariaho, and visual artist Brice Marden to mark the 75th anniversary of the publication of T.S. Eliot’s iconic poem cycle, was named the “Best Dance Production of 2018” by the New York Times, which pronounced it “the greatest creation of dance theater so far this century.”
Grace and Mercy is commissioned by Bard SummerScape and the Fisher Center, the Joyce Theater, the Kennedy Center, and Carolina Performing Arts at UNC Chapel Hill.
Share Your Audience Review. Your Words Are Valuable to Dance.
Are you going to see this show, or have you seen it? Share "your" review here on The Dance Enthusiast. Your words are valuable. They help artists, educate audiences, and support the dance field in general. There is no need to be a professional critic. Just click through to our Audience Review Section and you will have the option to write free-form, or answer our helpful Enthusiast Review Questionnaire, or if you feel creative, even write a haiku review. So join the conversation.