Mr. TOL E. RAncE explores the history of black entertainers through dance
The show paints a picture of the history of Black entertainers in America, a story of their struggle told through music and dance, the stereotypes they have had to endure, but also the joy and happiness they brought to themselves and to their audiences.
In charge of the show is Camille A. Brown, a renowned dancer and choreographer.
Some of her many accolades include two Bessie Award nominations (Best Performance- The Evolution of a Secured Feminist, Best Choreography- Mr. TOL E. RAncE) and performances at The Apollo, The Kennedy Center, and Madison Square Garden.
On top of currently performing Mr. TOL E. RAncE, Brown is also working on a new performance piece called Black Girl. Brown recently spoke about her forthcoming performance in Richmond, particularly some of the show’s themes, and how some of her own experiences influenced the show.
“Basically, the show is about Black stereotypes in the media, and what we’re doing is using stereotypes to talk about that,” said Brown. “Stereotypes are something we can laugh about, but they’re also things we are very embarrassed by…so we’re using all of those things to talk about what’s happening, what happened back then, historically, and then also what’s happening currently in pop culture.”
While the subjects of race and stereotypes are very sensitive issues, Brown believes that they are subjects that need to be discussed honestly and openly.
“I think it was important to be honest and to tell the truth, or what we see as our truth,” said Brown. “Sometimes that means you do things that make people feel uncomfortable. But you shouldn’t feel comfortable about stereotypes, you shouldn’t feel comfortable about wearing a mask, and if controversy is connected to honesty, then that’s the way to go.”
Part of this honesty in storytelling includes adding comedic elements to the show. Brown said she thinks comedy was really embedded in early black culture, and to leave out this humor would miss a part of the whole store.
“A lot of comedians, they get their material from the pain that they’ve gone through,” said Brown. “But they’ve transformed it and used it to make us laugh, so how can we not talk about those things? … Stereotypes are things that are definitely painful, but they’re things that you laugh at, too.”
Brown, a black woman, spoke of the importance of including some of her own experiences in the show, and how these person experiences helped grow and evolve the piece.
“Even though we’re telling this Black history, we are Black,” said Brown. “So we’re telling it through our lens, and applying it to our lives as well, so we’re not only the performers, but we’re the ones that are living this life, too.”
Brown said dance is a great medium to tell the story of Black entertainers and their struggles, saying the movement of bodies on stage is something investable, not just presentational.
“What does it look like when someone’s really smiling from their soul, and what does it look like when people are smiling but it’s a mask and what does it look like when people are smiling, it’s a mask, and they’re crying inside?” said Brown. “Those are three different movements of the body… It’s storytelling, it’s theatre, it’s visual, we have a live musician, so it’s all of these elements together to make the story.”
VCU Dance will be presenting Camille A. Brown & Dancers’ production of Mr. TOL E. RAncE this Friday and Saturday, Sept. 5 & 6 at 8:00pm at the Grace Street Theater, 934 W. Grace St. Richmond, VA.
William S. Young is an English student at Virginia Commonwealth University and a prospective professional writer. His work has been featured on iheartchaos.com, rvamag.com, and gayrva.com. William enjoys cultivating himself whenever and however possible, and hopes to someday have an expense account.
What was funny or entertaining evolved into questions of, why is this funny? Should I be laughing?September 17, 2014
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