Impressions of: 651 Arts Presents: Camille A. Brown & Dancers’ "Mr. TOL E. RAncE"
Presented by 651 Arts at Kumble Theater for the Performing Arts
December 7, 2013 at 7:30PM
Artistic Director/Choreographer: Camille A. Brown
Performers: Timothy Edwards, Juel D. Lane, Waldean Nelson, Mora-Amina Parker, Willie “Tre” Smith III, Marlena Wolfe, and Camille A. Brown
After hitting the road hard with an extensive U.S. tour, Camille A. Brown and Dancers brought Mr. TOL E. RAncE back to New York for two nights only at Kumble Theater in Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus. The performances were presented as part of 651 ARTS’ 25th Anniversary Season “Black Dance: Traditions and Transformation.” Brown heralds Dave Chapelle’s bravery, Spike Lee’s film “Bamboozled,” and Mel Watkins’ book “On The Real Side” as her main inspirations for the piece.
Act I opens with short projections of cartoonish animations to pay homage to pioneering black artists. Whoopi Goldberg whooshes by onscreen as does the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air with his big, square hair.
Decked out in Baker Boy hats and suspenders, Camille A. Brown and dancers carry off that 1920s newsboy look, but they aren’t standing on the streets shouting headlines or selling papers; they are making the news. Street meets tap meets spastic fits. Surrendering themselves to punchy movements and aggressive stomping, their movements carry traits of African circle dancing, ballet, and hip-hop. The old-timey theme serves as an ode to the perseverance of the black performer throughout history.
“The origins of Black American entertainment were traced back to the slave plantation, The Dozens, jive talk, et cetera… I was so moved by our perseverance, our struggles, our joy, our pain…"
- Camille A. Brown.
Act II, which addresses mainstream pop and stereotypes of black culture, is depressing yet sidesplitting. Imagine watching “12 Years A Slave” on fast-forward with the suffering characters’ voices squeaky like chattering mice.
We are rewinding history… Black American history.
A pantomime of a reality TV show displays aggression and sexuality at its most cliché. Good-natured arguments explode into strong language and sexually suggestive moves. The N word, “bitch,” and “dick” are dropped as casually as “hello,” “good weather” and “how’s it going?” Someone shoves poor Scott Patterson, the live pianist, against the grand piano; black and white keys come crashing down, making an ugly sound. There is PG18 grinding, motor-boating, grinding, and, of course, 2013’s dance move of the year - twerking.
Some forms of entertainment wipe your head clean like a slate. Others, like Mr. TOL E. RAncE, raise inquiries and necessitate conversation.
Moderated by Piper Anderson, Director of Education and Artist Development at Young Audiences New York, the dialogue that caps the hour-long show has emotions running high. Despite the theater’s spaciousness, the intimacy is real. More than one audience member sheds tears while effusively thanking Brown for having the courage to put their story on the table.
It would be presumptuous of me to claim wholehearted understanding of the Black American experience. What I do know is that most artists dare not even dream of putting together an act like tonight’s. Courage sets Camille A. Brown apart from the cookie-cutters.
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For more information:
Camille A. Brown & Dancers: www.camilleabrown.org
651Arts - www.651ARTS.org