Choreographer Camille A. Brown talks with the Banner
Acclaimed choreographer Camille A. Brown has been praised and awarded for her riveting, soulful and innovative dance-theater performances, which explore the rich and complex history of African American culture. She’s a four-time Princess Grace Award winner, a Ford Foundation Art of Change Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellowship recipient and a 2019 Tony Award nominee for Best Choreography for her work on the Broadway play, “Choir Boy.” The artistic director and founder of the dance company Camille A. Brown & Dancers invites audiences to experience stories and dialogues about race, culture and identity.
A graduate of LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in New York City, Brown earned a BFA from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. Her illustrious career includes choreographing the Emmy Award-winning 2018 television special, “Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert” and the Tony Award-winning revival of Broadway’s “Once On This Island.”
On March 7 and 8, the Celebrity Series of Boston presented Camille A. Brown & Dancers at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre.
Led by Brown, the company performed excerpts from their repertoire, including her work “ink,” the final installation of the company’s trilogy about culture, race and identity. The piece follows the Bessie Award-winning “Mr. TOL E. RAncE” and Bessie-nominated “BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play.” Drawing on historic and contemporary rhythms, rituals and gestural vocabulary of the African Diaspora, “ink” reclaims African-American narratives by showcasing their authenticity. The work examines the culture of black life that is often appropriated, rewritten, or silenced.
In an email interview before the Boston shows, Brown responded to questions regarding the definition of social dance, her influences growing up and choreographing the national tour of Aida in 2021.
Banner: It’s been a few years since “Mr. TOL E. RAncE” and “BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play” premiered. Why do you think they’re more relevant today than ever?
Camille A. Brown: Because they are culturally specific, universal, and are both historical and contemporary stories about black people created by a black woman.
Some of your choreography has been described as social dance. What is social dance?
Social dances come from the community. They are a combination of structure and creative identity. They also can tell us what time period we’re in based on the way people move from the era. It’s fascinating to see how social dances have progressed over time.
From everything I’ve read, it seems that dance has always been a part of your life. Was there ever a moment that you considered following a different career path?
There’s nothing else I saw myself doing. I wanted to be a Lego builder when I was a child. I still build Legos as a hobby.
Who were some of your influences growing up, and is there anyone who continues to influence or inspire you today?
Debbie Allen is a huge inspiration. She does it all. Her body of work makes me believe that all things are possible.
You’ve created and collaborated on so many works. Is there a favorite one?
I have special favorite moments from a lot of projects. It’s super hard to choose!
Was choreographing “Porgy & Bess” at the Met a full-circle moment for you, as you attended high school nearby?
It was a crazy feeling! The only time I had ever been to The Met was to see “Hansel & Gretel” at 4 years old. I was too young to remember. As a student at [LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts], I would use the underpass connected to The Met to enter the subway. It never occurred to me that I would have the opportunity to create new footprints and walk into an actual rehearsal as “choreographer” there!!!
One of your upcoming projects includes choreographing the national tour of “Aida” in 2021. What are you most looking forward to in working on this production?
I am THRILLED to work with Schele Williams on this show. She is a powerful black woman, and I am honored to support her vision. It’s always a joy to share space with my associate, Rickey Tripp. We have the best time together! Looking forward to it all!
What do you hope audiences take away from seeing your shows at the Shubert Theatre?
If I’m working honestly, challenging myself, honoring my ancestors, lifting and empowering my staff and Company, and being the best leader, director, teacher and dancer I can, then hopefully my work speaks for itself.
And finally, you’ve accomplished so much in your career. What other challenges or projects are you looking forward to?
I am starting to get directing opportunities for theater, which is unreal!!! It started with a dream. I just wanted an opportunity to choreograph for theater and Broadway. That’s as far as I thought my dream could go. I didn’t think it would happen. It did and there’s so much more that was unimaginable and inconceivable in my mind.
I put myself in challenging situations because I always grow. Even though it’s the most uncomfortable and scary feeling ever! That’s really what I always want to keep doing … growing. I take huge dives and have to trust that I will land.