(BECKET, Mass.) – Camille A. Brown brings her evening-length work, BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play, to Jacob’s Pillow, along with dendy/donovan project’s Elvis Everywhere, from Wednesday, August 9, through Sunday, August 13. Brown’s work explores representations of black women through modern dance, hip-hop, African-American social dances, ballet, and tap dance with throbbing rhythms, color chalk scenery, and live music. Inspired by an interview with Donald Rumsfeld on his encounter with Elvis Presley in Las Vegas, Dendy’s Elvis Everywhere utilizes the arc of Elvis’s life as a metaphor for the U.S. and its current turbulent political atmosphere.
Jacob’s Pillow 2016 Dance Award Winner Camille A. Brown – also a 2016 Guggenheim Fellow and creator of the viral TED-ED Talk, A Visual History of Social Dance in 25 Moves – draws upon Kyra D. Gaunt’s book, “The Games Black Girls Play,” in BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play, in which dancers move through solos and duets that explore their own stories, stereotypes, and social influences on the way to examining what it means to be a black woman in urban America. The piece, staged in the Ted Shawn Theatre, features an original score performed by pianist Scott Patterson and bass guitarist Robin Bramlett.
Scenic designer Elizabeth C. Nelson’s colorful chalk background — reminiscent of a neighborhood sidewalk — and large black-block platforms enliven the “play” of the dance and alter the typical landscape of the proscenium theater. Brown herself becomes part of this scenic design with her opening solo of intricate rhythms, where the stage becomes an obstacle course that cannot win against her fast footwork and fluid movement.
In their newest collaboration, Mark Dendy and Stephen Donovan employ Dendy’s choreography, Donovan’s striking projections, and Elvis Presley’s iconic hits to create a captivating social commentary on America’s obsession with celebrity figures. Dancers move between Elvis-inspired hip swivels and Dendy’s own experimental vocabulary of movement,
drawing on elements of both classic Hollywood musicals and postmodern dance. Through the use of Elvis’s most iconic hits, including “Hound Dog,” “Love Me Tender,” “Jailhouse Rock,” and “All Shook Up,” the dance suggests that the arc of Presley’s career is one and the same as that of America itself, nowhere made more clear than in a solo by Dendy danced to a recording of an interview with Donald Rumsfeld, who served as Counselor to the President, a general advisory position with Cabinet rank, in the Nixon White House. The interview, in which Rumsfeld describes his encounter with Elvis Presley in Las Vegas, inspired Dendy’s initial choreographic ideas for the work.
Late-night TV host John Oliver said this about “Elvis Everywhere”:
“America is Elvis Presley – the most beautiful, talented, rebellious nation in the history of Earth. And now, you’re in your Vegas years. You’ve squeezed yourself into a white jumpsuit, you’re wheezing your way through ‘Love Me Tender’ and you might be about to pass away bloated on the toilet. But you’re still the King.”