If you haven’t yet seen the Broadway revival of “Porgy and Bess,” get yourself to the Richard Rogers Theatre (46th @ 8th) before the show closes on September 23rd. Tony Award winners Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis are spectacular of course, but the choreography of the show is not to be overlooked.
Gershwin’s 1935 musical is known as an “American folk opera,” remembered for it’s classic songs like “Summertime” and “I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’.” But the revival, choreographed by Ronald K. Brown (founder of Evidence Dance Company and guest choreographer at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater), employs dance not as part of the “Broadway triple-threat” mentality, but to acknowledge dance and movement as parts of human nature.
“Porgy and Bess” may not have the partnering of “Memphis” or the tumbling and triple pirouettes of “Newsies,” but it has two important qualities: 1) sentimentality and 2) authenticity. Brown’s choreography emotes and naturally supports the mood of the scene – whether it’s mourning at a funeral or celebrating at a picnic. In an interview with Dance Magazine, Brown explained,
“I felt kind of liberated. Some people might think I would need dancers who could do toe touches and flips”—here he adds a hearty laugh— “but I’m like, let’s have the community. How would they move at the funeral? At the picnic? Through their lives? I could discover how those people would move.”
Ensemble member, Andrea Jones-Sojola, added,
“These are dances that an ancestor of a person living in 1939 would have taught their children and grandchildren. We’re doing movements onstage from West Africa or the Caribbean that our grandparents probably taught us. They’re authentic dances that would have been passed down from generation to generation. So instead of just busting out in a dance number, they’re very authentic. And the fact that a real dancer doesn’t have to do it makes me all the more comfortable.”
Ebony.com asked Brown, “What’s led you to blend different forms of world dance in your work?”
“In the early ’80s, people were discovering the facility in their body absent of emotion. I don’t get that. For me, dance is about something. It’s a sensibility thing. Is it just about “I can dance,” or demonstrating the technique? In traditional dance, there’s already a purpose in the dance. In Guinea, there’s a dance you do if a woman is having trouble holding onto a child. In Côte d’Ivoire, I learned dances that you do at a funeral. Or in Afro-Cuban dance, there’s a dance for opening the way. There’s a dance for fire, there’s a dance for change. And so I use those rhythms or steps. And because I touch it and I’m from Brooklyn, I can change [the dances], but that could be the vocabulary to influence this contemporary work.”