Grace and Mercy
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In Performance at the Fisher Center: ‘Grace and Mercy’
As a 20th anniversary celebration, Ronald K. Brown’s Grace, a “rapturous masterpiece” (New York Times), opened the 2019 SummerScape Festival at the Fisher Center, along with a newly created companion piece, Mercy. These two spiritual works featured live music performed by ten renowned musicians who shared the stage with Brown’s 13-member dance company, Evidence. A large and wide-ranging audience from across New York State and the Hudson Valley attended this landmark performance at the Sosnoff Theater exceeding all box office projections.
Created in 1999, Grace was developed by Brown for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater as a testament to the company’s founder. This summer marked the first time Grace’s score was performed live, by world-class musicians whose activating presence “helps to transform the people onstage into a congregation” (DanceBeat). Grace’s music weaves Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday,” the pioneering song “Gabriel,” by Roy Davis Jr., and Feli Anikulapo Kuti’s electric “Shakara” into a multilayered mix, that moves over the audience in divine-like waves.
Mercy explores darker themes, and Brown’s choreography itself is a plea for what it is to have, give, and need mercy. Meshell Ndegeocello, a soul-and-rock vocalist and bassist, composed the commissioned score as a meditation on compassion and forgiveness. Brown and Ndegeocello’s collaboration makes tangible the symbiotic and procreative relationship between dance and music. After Ndegeocello’s first studio visit, Brown remarked that she carefully followed the dancers to observe the way they move and where they breathe, as if she was choreographing music as movement through the space. After working together in New York City, their two-week residency at the Fisher Center leading up to the premiere provided them with invaluable time to dive deeper into how music and movement played off each other. The dancers embody this in their movements, which “are otherworldly charged, urgent in their undulating sweep and unaffectedly fervent” (New York Times). Ndegeocello’s music speaks to the audience through sounds that are “atmospheric and melancholic, a wash of arpeggiated guitar, vibraphone, Fender Rhodes and harmonica” (New York Times).
Read more about the premiere in Deborah Jowitt’s review for Arts Journal: https://www.artsjournal.com/dancebeat/2019/07/grace-and-mercy-come-together/
While the full program will not be performed again with live music, the two pieces will be performed next at the Joyce Theater, the Kennedy Center, and the Carolina Performing Arts Center.
Thank you to New Music USA for supporting this project!
Photography by Julieta Cervantes
Behind the Scenes of ‘Grace and Mercy’
Watch interviews with choreographer Ron K. Brown, dancers Annique Roberts and Valerian Louisy Louis Joseph, and senior producer Caleb Hammons as rehearsals for Grace and Mercy are underway.
The New York Times Reviews ‘Grace and Mercy’
“Only a stone could not have felt the spirit.”
Brian Seibert from The New York Times reviews ‘Grace and Mercy.’ Click here to read.
Photo by Julieta Cervantes
The New York Times Previews ‘Gracy and Mercy’
“[The dances are] otherworldly, charged, urgent in their undulating sweep and unaffectedly fervent. His blend of modern dance and movement from African traditions weaves a rich, poetic language that has the ability to lift the spirit — even if it’s just for a night.”
Read Gia Kourlas’ preview of Grace and Mercy in The New York Times.
Image by An Rong Xu for The New York Times
Grace and Mercy is a two-part evening-length production by Ronald K. Brown / EVIDENCE dance company. The first part is Mercy, a new work with original music composed and performed live by Meshell Ndegeocello. The second part is Grace [live], a 20th anniversary restaging of Ronald K. Brown’s Grace, performed with all live music for the first time.
Mercy is the first collaboration between choreographer Ronald K. Brown and singer-songwriter/bassist Meshell Ndegeocello. These artists are leaders in their fields, celebrated for breaking down social barriers with their iconoclastic and sublime approach to music and dance making.
Brown’s work is rooted in the human experience, promoting understanding of the African Diaspora through dance and storytelling. It provides sensory connections to history and tradition through music, movement, and spoken word, leading deeper into issues of spirituality, community responsibility, and liberation. Ndegeocello’s music has sparked a new movement in soul music and has earned her 10 Grammy nominations. She recently received a Creative Capital Award for her project No More Water/The Fire Next Time: The Gospel According to James Baldwin. Her critically acclaimed album “Ventriloquism” earned a spot on the New York Times ‘Best Performances of 2018’ list.
The second part of Grace and Mercy is a new staging of Brown’s 1999 work Grace, originally choreographed for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre with music by Duke Ellington, Roy Davis Jr., and Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Reviewing its premiere in The New York Times, critic Anna Kisselgoff praised its “fireball intensity” as “astounding, something to be sensed as well as seen.” For Grace [live], Jennifer Holliday, Peven Everret, and others will perform the complete score live for the first time.
Grace and Mercy is commissioned by the Fisher Center, where it will premiere July 5-7 as part of the 2019 SummerScape Festival.
This excerpt of Ronald K. Brown’s “New Conversations: Iron Meets Water” demonstrates the intersection of contemporary practice with traditional African and Caribbean movement vocabularies that is characteristic of his work. In this project, the power of this choreography is equaled by the presence of live music by Arturo O’Farrill and Resist. The extraordinary dancers of EVIDENCE exemplify the synergy of live music and dance that will define “Grace and Mercy.”
This music video for the track “Sensitivity” on “Ventriloquism,” Ndegeocello’s lauded 2018 album, demonstrates the sense of movement present in her practice as a composer and performer. Her reimagining of Ralph Tresvant’s 1990 composition affords not only a new musical experience but also a comment on the narrow expectations of sounds and structures for black artists and black music.
This video from Ndegeocello’s 2018 album shows her interest in work with dancers. In naming the album one of the “Best Performances of 2018,” New York Times critic Wesley Morris noted that Ndegeocello “is a visionary and a sensualist who sings with notes of honey, molasses and tar. Here, she finds the foundational groove of each song then builds a new house around it, making the songs all hers, and with a blend of funk and twang that makes them suitable for both sexy time and the front porch.”
Start and End Dates
07/05/2019 — 07/07/2019
Annandale-on-Hudson, New York