New York–based choreographer Camille A. Brown is the winner of a Bessie Award and a Doris Duke Artist Award. She has worked with a number of dance companies, including the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Philadanco, Urban Bush Women and Ballet Memphis. Brown spoke with fellow dancer and Get Down Town correspondent Imani Cole about the upcoming performance:
IC: What specifically influenced Black Girl : Linguistic Play?
CB: Well, my childhood. I get a lot of, “How much research did you do to come up with the piece?” and I always respond, “Well, there’s not so much research that I have to do because I am a black girl.” So that — childhood experiences. And also Alice in Wonderland — not so literal, but in the sense that Alice falls into a hole. And I think I want it to say that in this world of imagination, what if the hole that we fall into isn’t necessarily a bad thing? I think [for] black women and black girls, our stories are always surrounded by trauma and pain and sadness, so what happens when we fall into a world that is black girl joy — something that you don’t see in the media?
IC: How do you use movement as language in this piece?
CB: I use Juba, which is a social dance that started forming along the Middle Passage, that really came with slavery; the slaves weren’t allowed to have instruments, so they had to use their bodies. Step dance and tap dance can be traced to Juba. I’m actually using double Dutch too. We think of double Dutch as something associated with being young and childhood, but when we really strip it down, the musical composition, the skills that are required and the polyrhythms are really quite phenomenal. We do everything from the Charleston to the Nae Nae to the Jerk to the Mashed Potato to the Monkey, because all of these movements live inside of us.
IC: What can people expect to learn by
experiencing this performance?
CB: [Here’s] a very interesting story, and I use this story a lot because I think it’s important: We have a dialogue after the show [as] a part of the show, and one of the women — she was an older white woman — she said “I just found the little black girl in me.” And I told her, “I don’t think it’s that you have black girl in you, it’s probably that this is the first time that you’ve had a connection — a human connection — to a black girl.” When [people] see the universal themes, they start seeing themselves. I think when people see the title they think “black” and if you’re not black and if you’re not a black girl [then it’s], “Oh, I don’t know what this story is.” Well, you do know what this story is. And in the political climate of Black Lives Matter, this piece is saying why black girls matter, why black joy matters. This is one of the reasons why I created the work, because I saw a lot of talking about the issues and the problems, but I didn’t see anything celebrating black girl joy, black girl genius, black girl magic.