Photo credit: Whitney Browne.
Camille A. Brown has had a pretty incredible year from choreographing the Tony Award-winning musical Once on this Island revival to showcasing her skills to a mass audience on Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert. It was a year that is hard to top, but 2019 already started off with a bang for Brown.
She kicked off the year as choreographer for Manhattan Theatre Club's limited run of Choir Boy. Brown is now prepping for her company's weeklong run at The Joyce Theatre in New York City.
She talked to Dance Network recently about trying to wrap her brain around all of the successes of the last year. It's been a bit overwhelming for the talented choreographer.
"It's come like a whirlwind. It's been so exciting. And the challenges of how you focus and celebrate, too," Brown laughed. "I am trying to do that."
One of the big lessons she's learned along the way is that she had to make room in her life for the new opportunities that have come her way. That meant letting go of some stable income about five years ago even though Brown didn't necessarily know what would come next.
"I pulled back on teaching and commissions for other companies, so I could focus all of my energy on my company and theatre. I really love theatre, but teaching and commissions weren't something I loved as much. The scary part is that by pulling back you are taking a chance," she explained. "Who knows if other opportunities are going to fill in? I didn't know that, but I had to take a dive and trust that everything was going to work out and thankfully it did. I was able to give time because I made that space to do it."
Even with all of her recent success, Brown admitted, "As an artist, you are always going to be in that dangerous space and you are taking chances for yourself. That is part of the deal."
With Choir Boy currently running on Broadway, Brown came into the show as a fresh face. Some of the team had already worked together when the show ran off-Broadway in 2013.
"I think the challenge for me was coming in to do movement for a show that had already opened off-Broadway and beloved by many people," she shared. "I had to push through and get over. I had to put my voice on it."
Any doubts Brown might have had were pushed aside when she reminded herself that it was about the work, not about outside opinions.
"I had to say to myself, 'Camille, what's your mark?' You can't give your best if you are focused on what other people think. You have to focus on you and your intention. That's how you service the work when you do that."
That mantra has also kept her vision for the company, Camille A. Brown & Dancers, on a forward-thinking path. The company's Joyce engagement caps off a journey with the debut of ink, the final third of her trilogy.
'ink' from Peak Performances at Montclair State University.Photo credit: Marina Levitskaya.
"I never intended to work on three seasons and for it to become this trilogy — Mr. TOL E. RAncE, BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play and ink. It's exciting to end this six-year creative process. I hope people see the evolution of my ideas and my approach."
For longtime supporters, Brown is anxious to show them her creation because she knows that her choreographic strengths have developed over the years.
"I'm nervous, but I'm focusing on keeping the work alive because I know far more about storytelling and theatre," she said. "It's exciting to go back to the original work and refine it. I love that all three pieces are alive."
Brown's next big project is choreographing for the new Magic Mike musical that is set to hit Boston this fall for a pre-Broadway tryout. She also continues to focus on the future because she has big goals in mind.
"My goal is direct and choreograph my own show," she revealed. "I am very inspired by Jerry Mitchell, Susan Stroman and Rob Ashford."
With an ambitious journey ahead, Brown is also reminded about who came before her on this choreographic road. She understands this not only as a woman, but as a black woman in the arts.
"It's never just about you. People may see I'm leading the way, but there are women like Marlies Yearby, Katherine Dunham and Dianne McIntyre — they paved the way for me. It didn't start with me, it started with them," Brown explained. "As a woman, as a black woman, I am an underrepresented group. Sometimes I am the only woman, the only black woman, the only black person, but if you remember it's about the people who have come before and will come after you. It's a community."
It's a responsibility she's willing to take on to help future generations while honoring the past.
"I am working hard. This road is extremely hard and exhausting, but it was made easier by the people who came before me."
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