Ronald K. Brown’s latest works for his 20-year-old company, Evidence, have the raw power, breakneck speed and immediate accessibility of American street dance. It’s concert modernism for the Age of Krumping, and only if you take the trouble to look very, very closely can you see all the African, South American, Caribbean and jazz-dance influences that Brown so seamlessly amalgamates.
But don’t expect aesthetic distance at REDCAT, where the company opened a virtually sold-out, five-performance engagement Wednesday. This is the first time the Dance at the Music Center series has moved into this intimate venue at the back of Walt Disney Concert Hall, and when Brown’s eight-member troupe dances within inches of the first row, you see muscles working, limbs flying, eyes seeking your eyes as never before. You almost wish the theater provided the audience with seat belts.
However, Brown’s a serious artist, and the dances in his three-part program usually end in ways that prevent explosive ovations and, instead, keep you focused on the sense of mystery in his pieces: the unexpected confrontations and fleeting connections between dancers, the moments when they suddenly cover their faces with their hands as if in shame, the belief that even showpiece dancing has a spiritual component.
The first part of a projected full-evening work, “One Shot: First Glance” alternates jazz by Billy Strayhorn and a kind of surging Latino rap by Anonimo Consejo in a tribute to Pittsburgh photographer Charles “Teenie” Harris. In the first and third sections, two dancers in unison provide backup to a wildly eccentric soloist: initially Keon C. Thoulouis, later Bridget Moore. The full cast boogies in section two, but Thoulouis and Moore are still set apart from everyone else. A muscular but repetitive (unfinished?) solo for Brown ends the excerpt inconclusively.
In “Order My Steps,” Brown juxtaposes music by Fred Hammond, Bob Marley and Terry Riley to serve an action plan in which the anguished, contorted moves of a quartet are set against the freer, more serene style of a trio. The groups eventually merge in a joyous pop dance finale, but not before we’ve seen passages of fervent prayer, contemplative yoga positions and spectacular solos for Tiffany Jackson and Juel Lane.
Brown created “Grace” in 1999 for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and that company has performed it across the street at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The Evidence version again uses music by Duke Ellington, Roy Davis Jr. and Fela Kuti to mark the stages of a spiritual quest. But even though the choreographic style is far more sleek, polished and Aileyesque than Brown’s recent works, the dancers endow it with some of the rough-edged attack of those works, making it belong to the confrontational, unpredictable, dangerous and exciting present.
Besides the dancers previously mentioned, Evidence includes Camille Brown, Arcell Cabuag and Khetanya Henderson.
Ronald K. Brown/ Evidence
Where: REDCAT, 631 W. 2nd St., L.A.
When: 8:30 tonight, 3 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday
Price: $14 to $32
Contact: (213) 237-2800 or www.redcat.org