For choreographer, dancer and director Camille A. Brown, dance is a way to convey a story—a visual, moving and movement-filled narrative.
“I tell all kinds of stories … I’m definitely in the world of the Black experience because I’m speaking to my experience and telling stories through my lens, but I also do other stories as well,” says Brown.
She and her troupe, Camille A. Brown & Dancers, are heading to University of California, Berkeley’s Zellerbach Playhouse next week to showcase “ink,” a performance of significant personal, ancestral and cultural stories that touches on themes such as resilience, identity and race.
The Cal Performances event features dancers Beatrice Capote, Timothy Edwards, Catherine Foster, Juel D. Lane, Rhaamell Burke-Missouri, Yusha Marie-Sorzano, Maleek Washington and Brown herself, as well as live music incorporating traditional African instruments by Allison Miller, Juliette Jones, Scott Patterson and Wilson R. Torres.
Brown, who resides in New York, has received a cornucopia of acclaim over the course of her prolific career. Her 2022 Broadway revival of Ntozake Shange’s play “for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf” resulted in Tony Award nominations. She is also the Metropolitan Opera’s first Black director and choreographer.
For Brown, there is an identifiable personal connection to and purpose behind her work.
“I think choreography is about having your own voice, and my voice is really small and it’s always been small and I used to get teased when I was younger. So moving my body was a way for me to communicate and feel like I was in a safe space. Choreography is the expression of everything and [of] who I am; I get to create the voice that I want to speak in the world.”
The voice that comes across in “ink” is connected to personhood, ancestry and culture, with attention given to aspects of Black identity, such as self-empowerment. In creating the piece, she has said she wanted the dancers to represent superheroes.
Premiering at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 2017, “ink” is the third installment of a trilogy, following “Mr. TOL E. RAncE” (2012) and “BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play” (2015).
Brown says, “It’s a completely different piece, kind of along the same lines of Black people seeing ourselves through our lens – what that looks like, creating a safe space for ourselves, writing our own stories in ink – that’s why it’s called ‘ink.’”
She adds, “And just speaking to history and writing that history and lifting up the history, but [also] showing how we move through it into the future.”
The “ink” audience will witness a variety of styles, including hip-hop, tap, jazz and African American social dance.
Of the unique blend of dance types in “ink,” as well as its incorporation of commercial, theater and concert dance elements, Brown says, “I would describe it as ‘Camille.’”
Brown invites audiences to have their own interpretations of and responses to the piece.
“I try not to dictate what I want people to take away because everybody’s different, and they have their own entry points into it and what they see. So hopefully they just see my voice and my perspective and some really amazing musicians and dancers who are there to share our stories with the audience,” she says.
Camille A. Brown & Dancers appear in “ink” at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 14-15 and 8 p.m. Dec. 16 at Zellerbach Playhouse, 2413 Bancroft Way, Berkeley. Tickets are $34-$68; visit https://calperformances.org/events/2022-23/dance/camille-a-brown-ink/.