Camille A. Brown & Dancers in ‘Mr. Tol E. RAncE’

Lincoln Center Out of Doors, New York
August 2, 2014

By Katherine Moore of Dance Informa.

On Saturday, August 2, Lincoln Center Out of Doors presented Camille A. Brown’s Mr. TOL E. RAncE in New York City. The evening-length dance theater work explores the history of black performers, racial stereotypes and dance vocabulary through the lens of black culture.

Divided into three acts, the last being a moderated discussion with the audience, Mr. TOL E. RAncE begins with piano played onstage by Scott Patterson. Animation by Isabela Dos Santos streams across the backdrop of the stage, showing the audience images and videos from which Brown gained much of her inspiration. From old vaudeville videos to the opening credits of Fresh Prince of Bel Air, the animation accompanies the dancers’ rich and vigorous movement through time and African American experience.

Sometimes funny and often poignant, this is a work that instantly draws you in. The intricate layering of recognizable dance forms with contemporary dance has you wondering who these people are and what they’re experiencing. One moment the dancers are tapping away with white gloves and huge grins on their faces and the next they’re twerking and grabbing their crotches.

 Camille A. Brown & Dancers present Mr. Tol E. RAncE

Camille A. Brown & Dancers present ‘Mr. Tol E. RAncE.’ Photo by Grant Halverson.

The choreography is complex, the tone both lighthearted and heartbreakingly sad. At times the group dancing seems almost too frenetic to see clearly what is happening, and it’s the solo performances that really glue this piece together. Repeating gestures from start to finish give this work continuity, but the true testament to the caliber of this work lies in the performances given by Brown’s dancers (including herself). Heartfelt, dynamic and rigorously detailed, this is the kind of dancing that carries a story forward with each movement. Brown’s final solo that closes the work shows off her mastery of viscerally-evocative performance. The audience feels with her.

The subject matter here is dense. How can a choreographer explore such serious and deeply personal ideas in a way that still celebrates and entertains? The key lies in asking instead of telling, a feat that many choreographers fail to accomplish. Mr. TOL E. RAncE, however, succeeds in feeling like a question from start to finish. Sometimes muddled and repetitive, but mostly piercing, this work by Brown invites the audience to participate in a dialogue about issues that, while certainly not new, never cease to be relevant.

Photo (top): Camille A. Brown & Dancers present Mr. Tol E. RAncE. Photo by Grant Halverson.

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