Rave Reviews of Camille A. Brown's New Work about Racial Stereotypes

The reviews of Camille A. Brown's MR TOL E RAncE have been unanimous in their strong praise.

 

Read Nim Wunnan's smart take on the work as well as on our post-show discussion HERE in Oregon Arts Watch.

 

Marty Hughley takes a different view of Camille's work in The Oregonian. Click HERE.

 

HERE is Robert Tyree's very personal response to Camille's work, with a fascinating video on the early black dance forms (Buck, Wing and Jig).

 

And following is Kiri Strak-Grose's incisive overview of the work, noting its multidimensionall aspects.

 

"Last night I went to see Camille A. Brown & Dancers perform an almost entirely new piece, MR. TOL E. RAncE (2012).  The performance involved such a variety of different aspects of performance--animation, live music, cultural and political references, and, of course, dance--that I am unable to hold the entire production in my head at once.  There were two acts, divided into four and five pieces, and while I cannot tell you which movements correlated to which piece, I can say that the entire performance is meant to be involved in a discussion of performers of color.  This discussion was shown in various ways: contemporary music, video clips of minstrelsy, blindingly white gloves that reference blackface performers or Black minstrelsy performers, projections of iconic television shows about black individuals or families, including The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, ROC, The Cosby Show, A Different World, Diff’rent Strokes, Amos ‘n’ Andy, and more.  Even in the projected, animated credits at the start of the show, cartoon characters bearing the faces of famous Black performers like Whoopi Goldberg walked across the screen.

At one point during the performance, Brown and a male dancer acted as “game-show hosts” the purpose of which was to find the worst representation of people of color in the media, featuring the “fat ass Negro.”  Dancer Mora-Amina Parker bravely played the role of the over-sexualized woman of color, having to portray the character in order to deconstruct the stereotype. 

 

The movement throughout the evening was eclectic--the primary characteristic it had in common was virtuosity and athleticism.  Other than that, the movement ranged from slow, deliberate, and heartbreaking--such as in Waldean Nelson’s solo in Act II--to fast ragtime, to jolts and jitters and crawling.  There was a particular emphasis on the extremities: for the first piece or two in Act I, all of the dancers wore brilliantly white tap shoes, their movements creating a soundscape as well as a visual stage picture.  In addition to the tap shoes, most of the performers, at one point or another, wore the white gloves previously mentioned.  In terms of movement, though, there was a recurring gesture where the soloist at the time would flex his or her hands slightly, a motion reminiscent of breathing.  The word of the day was stamina--these dancers performed an athletic 45 minute piece nonstop.  For the piece involving the tap shoes, the soundscape was complexified by the addition of the hoots and calls of the dancers; they fed off each others’ energy, dancing short solos or in pairs or groups of three, each one trying to top the last in impressive footwork and showmanship. 

 

The value of this piece lay in both its discussion of performativity in minstrelsy and ragtime dance and the athletic movement itself, which showcases the dancers’ impressive talent.  The purpose of the evening was getting these voices out and raising awareness of the difficulties and stereotypes of Black performers in the past, present, and future.  During the talk-back after the performance, Camille A. Brown raised the point that performers of color, even now, put up with a lot of stereotyping and degradation which should no longer exist.  Brown asked if Black performers chose to ignore these conditions, or if people have grown blind to these stereotypes?  Why is this still happening, and how can we make it stop?

 

The performance was so multi-faceted I find it simply impossible to cover everything.  The movement was virtuosic and visually striking; the live piano music performed by Scott Patterson was the perfect canvas for the artists’ bodies, and the issues raised by this performance are both important and immediate.  The most political performance of the season thus far, MR. TOL E. RAnceE was candy for the eyes and low-glycemic, aggressively healthy food for the mind."