Camille A. Brown rehearsing “I Ain’t Got No Shame” with the company of ‘Porgy And Bess’. Video courtesy: The Metropolitan Opera.
Right now, in the world of New York City choreographers, it seems there’s no one on more of a hot streak than Tony-nominated dance creator Camille A. Brown.
Brown, who just created the dances for the New York Metropolitan Opera’s stunning new production of ‘Porgy And Bess’ — a piece the opera company hasn't revived in nearly 30 years — was nominated for a 2019 Tony Award for her work choreographing Broadway's 'Choir Boy'. Brown also just launched the national tour of ‘Once On This Island’ — which featured her Chita Rivera, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle Award-nominated choreography, and just built the movement for the Public Theatre’s new "choreopoem", ‘For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf’ that began previews October 8th.
In other words… she’s been going non stop!
“It takes a team!” Brown told Dance Network. “This is a wonderful opportunity to lift up my choreo teams for all of the projects happening now. Their assistance is invaluable and they have been so supportive as I create specific movement languages for each show. It’s all about the people you surround yourself with who you can trust and depend on to help follow through on your work.”
Her work on the Metropolitan Opera’s ‘Porgy And Bess’ has been a new venture for Brown who’s prominently worked as a contemporary choreographer with her company, Camille A. Brown & Dancers, and on Broadway. Yet, while choreographing for the Met might be new for Brown, it’s also been an opportunity for her to add her culture bearing, deeply intuitive, and narrative-driven movement to the new production.
“The main goal is not to ‘perform’ the black experience — referencing the church, jook-joint, and other aspects of black life during that time — but for the cast to be grounded and confident in their culture and history,” Brown said. “It’s about creating a community on stage that the audience is invited to witness.”
‘Porgy And Bess’ at the Met. Photo credit: Ken Howard/Met Opera.
To create and choreograph that “community” within the world of ‘Porgy And Bess’, Brown took inspiration from a number of different avenues.
“‘Porgy And Bess’ takes place in the 1930s, so there are some social dances from that time period and earlier — the shimmy, camel walk, cakewalk, and slow grind — as well as aspects of the church and jook-joint I mentioned earlier,” Brown explained.
I’m also taking cues from the cast’s choices,” Brown added, “how their bodies want to respond to the stories. During our first session, I spoke with them about how movement transforms through time and to make sure that we stay true to the era. So, we can’t do the ‘Nae Nae’ on Kiawah Island!”
As far as the venue and the medium goes, Brown has definitely noticed a few differences between working in the opera versus on Broadway or a company dance setting.
“Those AGMA breaks are everything!” Brown joked regarding the lengthier breaks required by the American Guild of Musical Artists, the union that represents opera performers. “I know that’s probably not what you’d expect me to focus on, but the extended breaks were really nice because I was actually able to rest, eat, and prepare for the next activity.”
“We also didn’t have 10 out of 12s where we work from 12 pm to 12 am during tech week,” Brown said, “I don’t always get those spacious breaks, so when they’re there, I have to cherish them!”
The company of ‘Porgy And Bess’. Photo credit: Ken Howard/Met Opera.
When it comes to the artistry behind her choreography, however, Brown stays consistent.
“In terms of my process,” Brown described, “it remains the same regardless of the arena. The turn around time definitely fluctuates, so I have to make sure I stay on top of each project in terms of scheduling and process. Each project has a different creative team, and every pairing brings its own energy. Theater and concert are completely different, so navigating each space accordingly is important.”
“In terms of development, [though], it’s different,” Brown went on. “In theater, I walk into a space where there’s a script and music. When I’m creating work for my company, I’m — in a sense — writing the story and working with my collaborators to build the music and arc. I am the director.”
As far as what’s next, it's looking like Brown will continue her whirlwind series of bookings for the foreseeable future.
Later this year, on November 9th and 10th, ‘Camille A. Brown & Dancers’ will perform Brown's Bessie Award-winning piece 'Mr. Tol E. RAncE' at The Joyce Theatre in New York City, and in December, Brown’s 'City Of Rain', a piece that she’s reimagined and set on Alvin Ailey dancers, will premiere in Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre's new season.
Brown is also lined up to choreograph the highly anticipated and revamped version of ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ at City Center Encores next May. The production, slated to star ‘Mean Girls’ actress Ashley Park and be directed by Lear deBessonet, the mastermind behind The Public Theatre’s production of ‘Hercules’ that played Central Park this past summer.
Brown is also set to make her theatrical directing debut next summer with a production of ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ at Westport Country Playhouse in Westport, Connecticut.
Brown is also reportedly scheduled to choreograph the 2021 Broadway aimed ‘Soul Train’ musical.
“Leavin’ for the Promise’ Lan’” from ‘Porgy And Bess’. Video courtesy: The Metropolitan Opera.
For information and tickets to ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’, ‘Once On This Island’ on tour, 'Mr. Tol E. RAncE' at the Joyce, 'City Of Rain' at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, or ‘For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When The Rainbow Is Enuf’, check out the respective links.
‘Porgy And Bess’ continues at the New York Metropolitan Opera on a seasonal schedule with select performance dates through mid-October and resuming again in January 2020. For more information and tickets, visit www.MetOpera.org
Michael Mahany serves as Dance Network’s New York City correspondent. Aside from journalism and hosting he is a professional actor, singer, dancer who appears nightly in the 10th Anniversary production of Rock Of Ages in New York City. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.