Review: Camille A. Brown and Dancers at Jacob’s Pillow
Camille A. Brown and Juel D. Lane in Been There, Done That; Christopher Duggan photo
Camille Brown is a young dancer/choreographer taking the dance world by storm. As a sophomore at the LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts (New York City’s “Fame” school) she earned a scholarship to The Ailey School. She was invited to join Ronald K. Brown/Evidence in 2001, and a year later she was named among three winners of the Hubbard Street 2 National Choreographic Competition, based on work she had created as a college senior at University of North Carolina School of the Arts. As a member of Evidence, Brown was named one of Dance Magazine’s 2006 “25 to Watch,” and that same year she was the first female recipient of the Princess Grace Award in Choreography. Between these achievements and several appearances at the Pillow with Evidence and in original work on the Inside/Out stage, it’s no wonder she has been on Ella Baff’s radar, resulting in Camille A. Brown and Dancers being selected for a Pillow Creative Development Residency this spring, during which she worked on two Pillow co-commissions which were premiered at her program this week.
The influence of Brown’s background is clearly evident in her Pillow program of six works, several of which are firmly grounded in the Afro-Caribbean dance tradition. The word grounded is appropriate, as much of the movement in New Second Line and Girlz Verse 1 is rooted in that vernacular: low to the ground, with wide-legged, rounded-shoulder, stooped stomping movements that alternate with loose-limbed outward and upward explosions, all performed with high energy in a constantly mutating floor pattern.
Girlz Verse 1; photo by Christina Lane
Also evident is Brown’s humor, sense of history, observational acuity, and skills as a storyteller; these dances are all about something and their meaning is readily accessible. So New Second Line is about the funeral traditions of New Orleans, where the second line follows the parade of mourners with exuberant, jubilant music, and also about the resilient spirit of the Crescent City in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Girlz Verse 1 is straightforward show of fierce female power; this is obvious without the audience having been clued in that the work – one of the two premieres – is based on the Doun-Doun-ba from West Guinea, a traditional male warriors’ dance. In both pieces, and throughout the program, the accompanying music is just as rousing as the driving choreography.
Photo: Christopher Duggan
The other premiere, Been There, Done That, is a humor-filled duet with Juel D. Lane that starts out looking like a fifties-era social dance to the music of Nancy Wilson and the New York Allstars. Both dancers, in retro outfits, appear prim until the gloves came off – or in this case, the shoes and other accessories – which frees up the characters to enact an attitude-filled dance competition, accented with spicy banter, mock disgust, and eye-rolling directed at each other and the audience.
Brown’s humor also shines in The Groove to Nobody’s Business, which captures moments on a subway platform and includes the most clever, engaging choreography of the evening. Six dancers costumed in jeans and sneakers take on distinct roles of characters waiting for a train, jiving nonstop in and out of unison, with complex patterning on and off a row of authentic-looking NYC subway chairs – checking watches, making connections, flirting, forming alliances and animosties, and invading each other’s space—propelled by the irresistible rhythms of music by Ray Charles. This piece is an excerpt from a 2007 commission by Alvin Ailey, and if she continues on a similar track she can look forward to even greater success in her future.
Jacob’s Pillow, Doris Duke Theatre