Zachary Lewis, The Plain Dealer | November 20, 2015
Camille A. Brown and Dancers aspire to tell universal tale on DanceCleveland series debut
CLEVELAND, Ohio This article aside, choreographer Camille A. Brown has a beef with the mainstream media.
To the extent most outlets highlight African-American women like her, she says, they typically do so only in "caricature," as one-dimensional subjects of misfortune. Rarely, she adds, do they portray the whole person.
"It's always very narrow," explains the New York-based dancer. "They focus on race, not the human being. You don't see our childhood, or if you do, it's surrounded by trauma. And that's not always a part of the story."
What: Camille A. Brown and Dancers
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 14.
Where: Hanna Theatre, Playhouse Square, Cleveland.
Tickets: $15-$35. Go to dancecleveland.org or call 216-241-6000.
Enter "Black Girl: Linguistic Play," the new work Camille A. Brown and Dancers will perform Saturday night for DanceCleveland at Playhouse Square.
Her response to years of inadequate representation, Brown's creation aims to set the record straight. Dance styles, childhood games and a wide range of musical influences commingle freely in portrayals of mature, grounded women.
A multilevel stage design by Elizabeth Nelson and an original score performed by pianist Justin Ellington and bassist Tracy Wormworth round out the environment in which the dancers perform duets depicting a girl's progress from childhood to adult sisterhood.
"It's about all the things you don't see in the media," Brown says. "This is about pulling out that joy. When we're playing these roles, we're playing ourselves."
As it happens, Cleveland can take a fair amount of pride in "Black Girl." Based heavily on interviews with women at a local correctional facility and realized in part through the new National Center for Choreography at the University of Akron, the dance owes much of its existence to Northeast Ohio.
Speaking with women here, Brown discovered the issues that became her themes, the ways the women she met feel misunderstood, mischaracterized and reduced to statistics. She also witnessed their interactions, drawing links through dance between the women's adult behaviors and the street games they played as children. "Linguistic," in this context, refers not to spoken word but rather to a shared language of gestures and movements.
"It wasn't a one-off thing for us," Brown explains. "We showed the women the dances, and they gave us incredible feedback. They lifted us up, and supported us. It was a really long process, but I'm glad I took my time."
Don't think of "Black Girl" as a Cleveland portrait, however. Its roots may lie in Northeast Ohio, but the dance in its finished form doesn't depict any people or place in particular, Brown says.
On the contrary, if there's one thing Brown wants her viewers to take from "Black Girl," it's the sense that the girls and women in her work could stand in for just about anyone.
"The issues we're talking here about are universal things," Brown says. "You'll be looking at a story you can relate to. This is your story, too."