AUDIENCE REVIEW: Mr. TOL E. RAnce
Camille A. Brown & Dancers
November 9, 2019
I had the pleasure of seeing Camille A. Brown and her dancers at the Joyce on November 7th. They performed Brown’s piece titled “Mr. Tol E. RAnce,” an hour- long work in three sections. The sections were strategically compiled to convey a message on how African American people are used in entertainment in our society. The piece was accompanied by Scott Patterson on the piano whose spirit was tangible to the audience with each note played.
One of the most revolutionary aspects of the piece was its use of imagery through various videos and photographs projected onto the stage. As Scott played, we viewed several images of old cartoons and productions. Unsettling images of black face and caricature like performances based on racial stereotypes were projected boldly for all of the audience to encounter. When the dancers (named “entertainers” in the program) took the stage, they reflected this with the jester like qualities that African Americans were viewed for having throughout history. In Act II: “Change the Joke, Slip the Yoke” this theme is continued. The dancers continued to “embrace” the stereotypes society places on black culture through various quotes, popular dances, and cultural mannerisms that much of the audience was probably distantly familiar with. As the audience laughed in amusement at the antics of the dancers I grew uneasy. The fact that we as an audience felt to approach these seemingly blatant stereotypes with laughter is, I feel, a testament on how we were not fully understanding the message of the piece. At that point in the performance, our audience was no different from the white audiences throughout history forcing black people both free and enslaved to perform for their entertainment, reducing them to exaggerated yet loveable jesters viewed as extremely simple. The courage of Camille and her dancers to give into this extremely vulnerable role while still being responded to with laughter is telling and a sign of how necessary pieces like this are to our society.
Act II also presented various images of African American TV shows and movies that America has come to know and love such as “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” and “Family Matters.” I feel that the nostalgia that the audience felt as these images reflected the fact that society praises and exploits African American’s for their talents but still oppresses them as a people. I feel this performance mostly presented this idea through Brown’s solo completed with theatrical white gloves as she painfully endures and attempts to fight through the stereotypes she is forced to paint herself as. It was a perfect conclusion to the piece as her emotion was enough to fill the room with discomfort— and rightly so. I applaud Camille A. Brown and her dancers for this performance as it had so much to say. I am proud to be given the opportunity to support creations like these and I would gladly see it again if given the chance.