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Q&A: US-born dancer Camille A Brown


US-born dancer Camille A Brown

US-born dancer Camille A Brown

US-born dancer Camille A Brown

The New York-born dancer will bring the European premiere of new work Mr TOL. E. RAnce to this month's Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen's.

Q: Tell us a little about the performance you will be putting on in Belfast. What does it consist of?

A: It's Inspired by Mel Watkins' book, On The Real Side: From Slavery to Chris Rock, Spike Lee's controversial movie Bamboozled and Dave Chappelle's "dancing versus shuffling" analogy.

It's an evening-length dance theatre work celebrating African-American humour and examining the "mask of survival" and the "double consciousness" of the black performer throughout history.

Through comedy, animation and soul-stirring live music by Scott Patterson, Mr TOL E. RAncE speaks to the issue of tolerance and addresses forms of modern-day minstrelsy we tolerate today.

Q: Dance can sometimes be a hard sell for audiences. What would you say by way of encouragement to those who aren't sure if your show is for them?

A: Dance is for everyone. Whether we realise it, our bodies are creating movement through our mannerisms. It injects many forms of art – music, visual art as well as dance. It is also a political commentary on pop culture society. We seek to inspire and develop a sphere of influence for dialogue and reflection.

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Q: Musical composition is a big part of your work as a dancer/choreographer. What tends to come first when you are creating, music or moves?

A: Sometimes I'll hear music and be inspired to create. Other times, I'll want to create movement around a certain topic. The latter is usually the more difficult of the two, because the music must be a perfect fit.

Q: You've said that you strive to tell stories that are based in current and historic times. Do you reference specific historical events in your work?

A: History, current events, and personal life experiences are all in my work. They range from topics consisting of pop culture or a simple day on a subway platform. You are able to comment on life when you experience aspects of it. So I'm happy to be given the opportunity to tell stories through movement.

Q: At what stage did you realise dance was what you wanted to do? Was it a childhood dream, or did it come much later?

A: I knew I wanted to dance when I was three years old. My mother is a musical theatre lover and introduced me to musicals. I also would try to learn the videos of Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson, and perform them in the living room. I didn't know it was something I could actually do as a career until I attended La Guardia High School. When I realised I could pursue dance as a career, that was it.

Q: Given the precarious nature of making a living in the arts, would you encourage others to try and make a career from dance?

A: Yes! We do it for the love! It is a tough business, but what career path isn't? If we based our forward motion on fear, we'd never take the first step. We must have the audacity to take big steps and great leaps.

  • Camille A Brown and Dancers star in Mr TOL. E. RAncE at The MAC, Belfast, on Friday and Saturday, October 24-25, as part of the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen's. Audiences can also enjoy a post-show talk with Camille and her dancers as part of the Embrace programme. Visit www.belfastfestival.com

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