Evidence of Angels
A velvet curtain hung between the audience and the entertainers, once drawn the lines between us would start to blur, as dancers became the vessels for spiritual expression and the viewers recipients of a grand display of human triumph, struggle and fierce compassion.
Cameron and I sat in the center of the crowd 4 rows in, she confirmed these were optimal seats. Far enough back to experience the whole performance, but close enough to see the muscles in the dancers flexed calves. The music resounded through the ‘Broad Stage’ and we were soon pulled into ‘Evidence:’ A dance company based in New York that blends traditional African dance with contemporary choreography and spoken word. Artistic director and choreographer Ronald K. Brown founded the company at the age of nineteen in 1985, his background of experience and praise is evident in the work I watched in front of me. There is wisdom in their execution and a story that demands to be heard.
‘Come Ye’ is the first part of the program described as, “a call to all those living in fear, all those willing to fight for their lives, and ultimately, to peace as guide and warrior.” The dance features music that blends the unparalleled rhythms of Nina Simone with the pioneer of the Afrobeat music genre, Fela Anikulapo Kuti. It was almost impossible not to move your body and hips to the sonic vibrations, but when I was on the edge of my seat I leaned back as soon as I had moved forward and allowed myself to be internally moved by the professionals, as it was a sight to behold.
Gestural movements dominated space in every direction; their footwork blessed every grain on the wooden stage. They explored traditional movements of African dance and the effect was organic expression; full-bodied engagement as leaping males and strong females complimented one another. The community that was displayed on stage was one of compassion and confidence as they matched each others energy with sincerity. I have never been more proud to be a woman than watching these performers owning every inch of their bodies, letting us explore every sinew and sway of their physiques.
As they paused in position to watch their counterparts perform, I caught their deep breaths, hungry for air but steady in their stance. Each one of them was unwavering as their sweat seemed to turn to tears, as exhaustion and intensity built in their bones. I found myself relieved as their chests began to rise and fall, seeing their thirst, it reminded me they are human.
As the dancers moved across the stage both singularly and as a unit I thought about their elders and ancestors who may have planted the seeds of dance in them, there was a moment of reflection for me when Arcell Cabuag leaned into the audience with a furrowed brow, he seemed to be asking his ancestral angels, who am I? Where do I come from? A curiosity shook his lower lip. It seemed to be a call to his past and a question to his future self, but what I discovered was an immense amount of trust with this inquisition. Just like each arch into the air and leap of faith he came back to solid ground, always trusting it would be there. it was a moment that yanked tears from my core and caused a quick reflection into my own personhood and past.
The dancers crafted their story from their own history, each one unique. Arcell, the Associate Artistic Director fiercely commanded the stage, with the focus of a lion he committed to every line and became a vision of grandiosity. I never once doubted the passion in his artistry, gesticulation of power and vulnerability as he created space within the musics’ quick beats.
Clarice Young reminded me of a fairytale princess on the run but one that might wear combat boots and a studded headdress. She was both angelic and bold, executing with precision and letting the sway of her hips take you on a flirtatious journey. She was tempting the audience and my eyes locked into her curvaceous movements, commanding attention until her final footsteps off the stage.
Keon Thoubouis had me from the second he stepped in view, barefoot and broad shouldered, he glistened. Masculinity oozing from his pores, a stunning birthmark adorned his face like a badge of honor. He was proud and serious, a flexible, toned young man. He danced with vigor, beating the chest of his own people, celebrating the music while nodding to a tortured past. Images of Martin Luther King and Ghandi projected behind him, black and white footage of protests and arrests. I felt a tug between falling in love with this expression of body but affected by a brutal history.
Taylor Jones made his way through the choreography with levity in his steps, a youthful soul, he seemed to hang in the air a second longer than seemed possible and moved with urgency, with a story that he had to tell.
‘Grace,’ the final piece, “weaves the story of a goddess’ journey to Earth to spread grace among humans, ultimately welcoming them to heaven.” Wearing all white ensembles with panels of pastel, yellows, pinks they converted the chaos of Duke Ellington and Roy Davis’s jazz music into a visual consistency with their heels to the floor and limbs swinging overhead. Yogic back bends and warrior arms bled sweat through their clothes and showed their muscle movement under wet skin.
It was a piece that transcended performance and entertainment; it was an all-encompassing narrative that blurred the definition between actors and performers, angels and warriors. The spiritual connotations led me into the bare naked truths of humanity. it is about community, relationships, freedom and support.
As Ronald K. Brown joined the dancers, there was apparent wisdom in his movements, he was performing like it was the only thing he knew how to do. He stood out in physicality, a kind of strength that takes years to build, he orchestrated the space while allowing his dancers to honor their own abilities.
Each dancer came alive with their own interpretation of the same messages of spirituality, culture, honor and faith. By the grand finale, I felt deeply connected to the dancers, it seemed we had a history, a relationship spanning years, that was really only hours. They each had vibrantly distinct personalities, their clothing unique to each of them, based on their bodies, their movements and their spirit. I believed them, their intent to entertain and to assuade authenticity sprawled across the stage was a testament to their divinity . I sit here now with the urge to bend my body and reach for my coffee with grace and power. I am inspired to mimic their application of artistry but in my own honest ways.
Everyone has a story, it’s how you tell it that sets you apart.
Ronald K. Brown, Arcell Cabuag, Clarice Young, Annique Roberts, Shayla Alayre Caldwell, Taylor Jones, Keon Thoulouis, Sherman D. Wood, Brittany Ballentine.
“I am forever grateful for the unconditional support from my family, friends, teachers and ancestral angels that have paved my path…always follow your bliss.” -Arcell Cabuag