How powerful are images? What do we really see in an image? How do these images comment on and inspire choreography? Camille A. Brown challenged us as an audience during the July 15th Show & Tell to consider more deeply the video and still imagery used in “Mr. TOL E. RAncE”. She challenged us because she knows the projection imagery used in this dance might make us uncomfortable as it “examines the ‘mask’ of survival and ‘double-consciousness’ (W.E.B. DuBois) of the black performer throughout history” and explores “the stereotypical roles dominating current Black culture” (http://www.camilleabrown.org/mr-tol-e-rance/).
Brown has a wonderful way of engaging an audience as seen in the audience warm up prior to the Show & Tell. Her energy is palpable. Brown and her company were also very generous answering audience questions about “Mr. TOL E. RAncE” and about their own life experiences. At the same time, Brown expects the audience to be equally sharing of their own insights, understanding and perceptions. She asked the audience what they actually perceived in the still and video imagery used in the dance. When answers seem to dwell on ideas like composition, lack of color, or other elements of art, Brown encouraged the audience to go deeper.
The ensuing discussion, prompted by Brown, probed issues of race, perpetuation of stereotypes, the power of imagery to lock in ideas of society for generations, and how we tolerate ideas we might be offended at in a historical context.
With their vibrant and profound movement in “Mr. TOL E. RAncE,” the Camille A. Brown & Dancers are less interested in a history lesson. Rather, “the goal of this personal work is to engage, provoke, and move the conversation of race forward in a timely dialogue about where we have been, where we are and where we might want to be” (http://www.camilleabrown.org/mr-tol-e-rance/).
The ideas in “Mr. TOL E. RAncE” are importantly universal as is the use of imagery to perpetuate stereotypes. As you experience this dance, consider the relationship between the chosen images and then look to our contemporary world for equal examples. Images are powerful and there is a story behind each one waiting to be fully understood.
This post was written by Jim Thurston. Jim is a professional designer and educator who researches the relationship between choreography and design for the stage. He is the chair of the Department of Theater and Dance at Colby College and is delighted to collaborate with artists and scholars at the Bates Dance Festival.