Bridging the Century

Four Hundred Years Make a Difference

Kylian being a masterful choreographer, this deadly dancing is thrilling: people seem to be angrily taking their bodies apart, inventorying items at top speed. In Act II, when a huge suspended gold cone revolves, laying a sweep-hand of black shadow on the floor, a couple of the men, Urtzi Aranburu and Joeri de Korte, explode in brief, unforgettable solos. All the dancers are equally powerful, beautiful, individual, and, given the supposed image of freedom, I'm disconcerted how often Kylian has a man come up behind a woman, grasp her waist, sweep her up, and put her down somewhere else before pressing her into knotty designs. "Ah, yes," those future cultural historians will say, "they really were desperate about gender then, weren't they?"

Ronald K. Brown has a whole hot stew of messages to deliver about African American identity, violence, and spirituality. Ebony Magazine, one of the two pieces his company showed at Jacob's Pillow and will perform Saturday in a free 7:30 concert at the Prospect Park Bandshell, urges people to seek a deeper sense of identity than glossy magazine images provide; the other, Better Days, tells us that four men (Brown, Taurus Broadhurst, Arcell Cabuag, and Telly Fowler) can bond through vibrant dancing and unashamed tenderness. A Jacob's Pillow premiere, Water—to terrific music by Fahali Igbo and text by Cheryl Boyce Taylor (delivered live by the poet)—speaks more directly of channeling the energy young men waste in violence into more positive pride, community, and peaceful vigor.

Brown doesn't tell literal stories; he wants dancing, I think, to express the shape and force of ideas. His pieces bubble over, as if he'd tried to stuff too much into one pot, but I'm gripped by the rawness, sweetness, and seriousness of his invention. In Water, the simple act of removing bloodstained outer garments, washing in small basins, and donning clean clothes (by Wunmi Olaiya) has a poetic rightness. In Ebony Magazine, his women (Pofina Williams, Dierdre Dawkins, Celise L. Hicks, and Angelica Patterson) wickedly send up posturing beauties and celebrity hostesses, but, like the men, get down with the sheer pleasure of the swinging, buoyant, juicy, African-influenced dancing that says, better than any words: freedom, strength, health, joy.

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