Saturday, July 19, 2014

Camille A. Brown & Dancers

Mr. TOL E. RAncE

Camille A. Brown & Dancers took to the stage in Lewiston, Maine and challenged the audience to look at a piece of history: Minstrel Shows.

Minstrel shows were a very popular part of American theater, yet when the civil rights movement gathered strength in the 60s, they lost favor and stopped being performed. Minstrels relied on stereotypes of uneducated, lazy, yet ever cheerful blacks who would be the brunt of the jokes. Although the minstrels made celebrities out of the African American performers…at what price? This is where Brown begins her examination.

Brown uses the minstrel show as a starting point but includes black performers from television as well. From Amos and Andy, to The Cosby Show, to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air - all are a part of a culture that portrays African Americans still trapped in a "blackface" that can't be escaped. The group of seven performers, or entertainers as they are noted in the credits, fill the stage in ACT 1- "What It Is." Beginning with contemplative slow movement with distinctive downward rounded spine and a body that reads depressed and repressed. This silhouette runs throughout the dance. But then the speed picks up, and all dancers are energetic and dancing up a storm with big movements and wow-we tricks and non stop excitement.

Act 2 - "Change The Joke, Slip The Yoke." Brown has set up the background in Act 1, and now really deliveries a knock out punch in Act 2. The dancers put on white gloves and exaggerated expressions and spoke with repeated modern day catch-phrases -"What are you talking about bitch?" and "Nigga that's me." The words put them in the present but wearing those gloves kept them still stuck in a role based in racism. It was just the right touch to remind the audience of the dancers inferiority. They presented a growing clash with the pride of moving and the heaviness of keeping the facade alive.

In a stunning solo, Waldean Nelson conveys this tension by swooping an arm that ends with a happy face. Then swooping his other arm which brings on a frowning face. He continues to swoop and change faces while increasing the timing and speed until he's maniacally moving and laughing and crying. Brown discusses in the program notes "the mask" that African American performers wear through history for survival. She also notes how much tolerance performers, then and now, need to have to get by in the entertainment field. Brown concludes the evening length dance with a solo where she determinedly tries to fight against the oppression with violent movements. SHe shows the struggle but at the end she stops and gives the audience one last exaggerated smile.

Live piano performed by Scott Patterson made us feel like we were in an old-timey dance hall. Costumes by Carolyn Meckha Cherry evoked the period wear of the minstrelled black-face performers. The company also included Timothy Edwards, Juel D. Lane, Mora-AminaParker, Willie "the" Smith III, And Marlena Wolfe.

Mr. TOL E. RAncE. Camille A. Brown & Dancers, Schafer Theater, July 17th and 19th, 2014.

No comments:

Post a Comment