Christal Brown's dance performance draws from her extensive history in the art, and from her passion.
There are countless forms of artistic expression, both verbal and expressive.
Christal Brown has known hers from a young age — Brown loves to dance, and she’s made a career out of that passion. The associate professor of dance at Middlebury College in Vermont has her own dance-coaching company and has produced a series of dance works examining the impact of the human body.
To her, dance is one of the most efficient ways to communicate with someone and to be close to them.
“What I love about dancing is that it gets me the closest to people that I've ever been,” Brown said. “It’s the medicine in the candy that cuts through all the kind of differences and the things that we put up walls for. It just gets us right to the humanity of each other."
On July 9-10, Brown will relay that message as part of the Sarasota Contemporary Dance studio’s In-Person Performance Series, where she will perform excerpts from her various dance pieces to a small audience. The performance will be streamed both days will be performed live on July 9.
Dance has been a lifelong passion for Brown, but it started out very much as a fortunate accident.
Instead of being dropped off at piano classes when she was a young girl, Brown was mistakenly sent to her best friend's ballet recital.
She quickly grew enamored with the craft from there and started taking lessons herself at 9 years old. She started off with tap, ballet, jazz and aerobics at a small studio in North Carolina and found herself as an assistant there by the time she was 14.
That led to becoming renowned in tap dancing, followed by studying dance at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and at an independent study in California.
She feels she’s had a fortunate career working with several organizations and prominent figures in the Black dance community such as Bebe Miller and Bill T. Jones over the years.
“By the shape of my career I've actually embodied every part of the African diaspora in modern and contemporary dance as we know it in America,” she said.
Brown had more time off from teaching at Middlebury College during the pandemic and decided it would be a good time to perform at the Sarasota Contemporary Dance studio. The performance will consist of a solo performance of “I’m Fine,” as well as her “What We Ask Of Flesh” series.
Brown had the idea for the “What We Ask of Flesh” series after reading a poetry collection of the same name that had her thinking about the idea of flesh and skin in a scientific and religious perspective.
The conclusion she came to is that flesh is the boundary between the world and the soul — the part of us that holds onto trace residue as things enter and exit our lives. She’s attempted to put that feeling and philosophy into a dance production. She will perform the original solo dance piece the production is based upon and a fellow company member will show a brief excerpt from the final production as well. While the production is a structured performance, Brown says there are improvisational aspects that will be different each time.
Brown says she often thinks about that improvisation and how mixing it with a structured performance can help her feel a kind of transcendence while dancing.
“A lot of times, I know I've been on stage and, and there are things that happen in my body or through my body that I'm not totally aware of,” Brown said. “That way of being able to clear out the clutter … is partially what my practice is.”
The dance production is a heady endeavor that Brown hopes will encourage the audience to engage in a dialogue about the production.
“(The audience) should feel free to engage in a dialogue about what's happening with their own bodies while they're watching,” Brown said. “(They should be) taking on the understanding that we're working with this definition of flesh that is a basically conduit for what we let into our lives and what we set out.”
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