Choreographer Camille Brown looks inward for dance inspiration

Camille A. Brown & Dancers will present “Ink,” the final part of a trilogy on black identity. The work will be presented in Durham Nov. 9 and 10 as part of Duke Performances.Matthew Karas

Dancer and choreographer Camille A. Brown has performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington and has won a Bessie, one of the dance industry’s premiere awards, along with a slew of other awards.

Despite this success, Brown will tell you that it’s rejection that spurs her to create these award-worthy dances, including for herself.

“I’ve always choreographed solos on myself, because if nobody picks me, I’m going to pick me,” Brown said this summer at the American Dance Festival in Durham at a post-performance talk.

She is returning to Durham next month with her company, Camille A. Brown & Dancers, to present another ambitious work she created: “ink,” the final part of a trilogy on black identity. The work, featuring Brown and six other dancers, will be presented Nov. 9 and 10 as part of Duke Performances.

In “ink,” the spotlight is on black men, African traditions and the African diaspora, as well as themes of brotherhood, community and resilience. The piece, which premiered at the Kennedy Center Dec. 2, 2017, incorporates blues, hip-hop, jazz and swing, as well as traditional African dance and music, according to Brown’s website.

In a 2017 phone interview with The News & Observer about “BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play,” the second piece in her trilogy, Brown said her works center on storytelling and musical rhythm, along with having ties to contemporary culture and her African-American heritage. She presented “BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play” as part of the NCSU Live series in February 2017.

Brown, who lives in Queens, N.Y., has often noted she intends to redefine the way stories are told about black life and black identity in our country, attempting to offer a deeper understanding of the humanity and depth of black history and culture.

“The identity aspect is about being human – strength, joy, sadness,” she said in the 2017 interview.

This summer, she performed a solo piece excerpt from “ink” at ADF as part of what was billed as the “Wondrous Woman” show that featured women choreographers. It was marked by ancestral gestures along with rhythmic clapping, all to African drumming.

Brown said in 2017 she wants to show African-American life as “who we were before the world defined us.”

“What was our identity?” she said. “How does that identity continue to live within us?”

She is expected to dance in “ink” this November, though her dancing days may be numbered. This summer, at the age of 38, she told the ADF audience that she was considering retiring. She said she has experienced medical problems, including a burst appendix in 2017, according to Dance Magazine.

Duke University is the first venue to show all three parts of Brown’s trilogy during a single performance season.

“BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play,” centering on girls’ playground games, is scheduled Feb. 1-2. It was created in 2015, according to Brown’s website.

“Mr. TOL E. RAncE,” which strips away the mask of minstrelsy and reveals the double consciousness underneath, is slated for March 1-2. This initial piece of the trilogy was first performed in 2012.

As a dancer, Brown is diminutive in size but mighty in her dancing — and her accomplishments. She has landed a TED Fellowship and her choreography can be seen on Broadway in the Tony Award-winning musical revival “Once on This Island.”

That’s turning rejection into dance.

Camille A. Brown & Dancers showcases “ink,” presented by Duke Performances

When: 8 p.m. Nov. 9 and 10.
Where: Reynolds Industries Theater, Bryan University Center, 125 Science Drive, Durham, at Duke
Tickets: $25, or $10 for Duke students
In conversation: Brown will talk about the trilogy Nov. 8, from noon to 1 p.m. at The Pinhook, 117 W. Main St., Durham. Admission is free, and light lunch will be provided.
Info: 919-684-4444 or dukeperformances.duke.edu

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