Following a performance, when an audience member asked if she could take the time to describe her past training, Camille A. Brown simply replied “no.”
On Wednesday, March 16, award-winning choreographer Camille A. Brown visited Brandeis. Following a showing of her work in the Lown School for Near Eastern and Judaic Studies, she hosted a question-and-answer session. Brown incorporates into her work elements of modern dance as well as ancestral stories in order to shed light on the experience of the modern Black female. The lecture began with a video showing Brown and fellow dancers at a performance. The performance largely consisted of different pairs of women dancing together, creating a story without the need for words.
One of the scenes that was particularly gripping consisted of two women performing step as a form of call and response. It felt like the two women were having a dialogue with each other made up of nothing but claps, snaps and steps. This display of technical skill was both impressive and captivating to watch. As the pair danced across the stage, chasing one another, their friendship came to life. According to Brown, her choreography is heavily structured, which makes this scene all the more impressive. The intimacy involved in one partner working off another shows how emotionally invested the author is in this relationship between two women and in her love of that companionship.
In another scene, the women focused more on bodily movement to convey their stage relationship. The majority of the scene revolved around the two women dancing in front of a graffiti-filled backdrop. The lighting was intense and washed out many of the bright colors present in the graffiti to bring more attention to the women on stage. The dancers moved with attitude and a special emphasis on the hips, as well as incorporated elements of hip hop that brought attention to the female body. Instead of call and response with sound, the women seemed to be communicating with one another through their bodies. The scene was an empowering display of the female body and the need for women to bring each other up. While at some points the tempo slowed and the dancers created a feeling of heartbreak, the scene overall was uplifting in tone.
In the final scene of the piece, a single dancer enters in a fit of intense movements. The dancer spends time messing with the chalk on stage, pausing for a few seconds to brood over the music as another dancer enters and watches on. In this scene, the dancers were very physical with one another. The figure watching over the other dancer would perform very protective gestures, such as fixing the dancer’s hair in rhythm with the music. At some points it looked as if one dancer was chasing the other around the stage. The dancers created a sort of mother-daughter or sister-like relationship with their intimate gestures. One audience member described the relationship between the two Black women, claiming “it shows how much we need each other.” The pair of dancers excellently displayed this feeling of support and togetherness on stage.
After the video showing her work, Brown hosted a question-and-answer session like she usually does after her performances. “The second act is a conversation,” Brown said. “I think people feel very differently about having a question-and-answer after a dance performance.” Brown described her desire for people to focus on examining what they just watched. “I want an immediate response to what you just saw,” she said.
While answering questions from the audience, Brown described how she came upon this piece. She said that she forgot at points that she was a child once, as she has been struggling with the tropes of the “angry” and “strong” Black woman for so long. The piece is heavily inspired by what it means to be a modern Black woman and to struggle with this identity. For one of the choreography exercises, Brown had each dancer look at a picture of a Black woman from 1880-1920 and to come up with a number of gestures for the routine based on that picture. The show impressively investigates many facets of the relationships between modern Black women in a performance that at many times is comedic and other times is heart-breaking.
Camille A. Brown brings a chaotic array of emotions to the stage pertaining to her identity as a modern Black woman. In her choreography she controls these chaotic feelings through a series of beautiful relationships. While they are not always completely clear, they are beautiful and filled with intimacy, just like any relationship beyond that of the stage.