In a program note for his troupe’s winter season at the Joyce, Brooklyn-based choreographer Ronald K. Brown quotes Judith Jamison, the former longtime artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater: “Dance is bigger than your physical body. When you extend your arm, it does not stop at the end of your fingers, because you’re dancing bigger than that; you’re dancing spirit.” Brown and Evidence, a Dance Company display that and more at their thrilling presentation at the Joyce, as arms reach out and reach up, searching for and finding spiritual fulfillment while energizing the rapt audience. The evening begins with Come Ye, a nearly half-hour piece with music by Nina Simone, including the title song, and Fela Anikulapo Kuti, performed by four men and four women in front of a screen that shifts in emotional colors from blue to red to orange before switching to archival footage of Simone, Fela, Muhammad Ali, Marcus Garvey, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and scenes from the civil rights movement. Occasionally, seven of the dancers will stand still, watching one dancer take over, while at other times one dancer will slowly move through the other seven, in full motion, as if all are bearing witness in their own way. As part of Carnegie Hall’s wide-ranging festival “The ’60s: The Years that Changed America,” the company is performing March, a duet excerpted from 1995’s Lessons and set to a speech by Dr. King, being performed as a tribute to the fiftieth anniversary of his assassination, with additional music by Bobby McFerrin. On opening night, Annique Roberts and Courtney Paige Ross teamed up in front of a dark background, moving determinedly, raising a hand when King speaks of “breaking down the barriers of segregation and discrimination,” later performing a breathtaking horizontal lift and carry. (On other nights, the duet will be danced by Keon Thoulouis with either Shayla Caldwell or Demetrius Burns.)
After a pause, Brown debuted Den of Dreams, a short piece celebrating the twentieth anniversary of Evidence dancer and associate artistic director Arcell Cabuag. It’s a dynamic piece about collaboration and trust, friendship and tribute, as Brown, who is fifty-one, publicly thanks Cabuag, who is forty-three, and Cabuag bows at the feet of his mentor. Brown, wearing an intoxicating smile through it all, also looks above, thanking the heavens for bringing them together. Opening night concluded with the rousing, nonstop Upside Down, an exhilarating excerpt from Brown’s 1998 Destiny, as the company, including Brown, cut loose to music by Wunmi, their arms pushing to the ground, then rising into the air in one of Brown’s trademark moves. The other nights will end instead with the company premiere of Dancing Spirit, which Brown created for Alvin Ailey in honor of Jamison’s twentieth anniversary as AAADT artistic director, as individual dancers perform slightly different routines to music by Duke Ellington, Wynton Marsalis, Radiohead, and War. If you’ve never seen Brown and Evidence before, this is a terrific introduction to a company that has been thrilling New York audiences for more than thirty years while also playing a key role in the Brooklyn community.