Camille A. Brown is a busy woman. She is consistently the “go to” choreographer for Broadway, off-Broadway and theater productions, has completed a TED-Ed talk, which logged over 15 million Facebook views, has her own touring company, Camille A. Brown & Dancers (CABD), is the recipient of countless awards and yet, she still somehow squeezes in community engagement through her company and choreography for other dance organizations.
As a 1997 winner in Dance and U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts, on Saturday, Jan. 12, Brown will be honored at the YoungArts Backyard Ball as the recipient of the 2019 Arison Alumni Award. The Backyard Ball is YoungArts’ largest annual fundraiser. Each year the occasion marks the conclusion of the organization’s signature program, National YoungArts Week.
When Brown was asked how she manages to work in so many different genres, each requiring such focus, she laughed.
“Oh, it’s insane,” says Brown. “I do it with an amazing team. You know, we never do anything alone. My community consists of my dancers, musicians, my administrative staff, my agent. Everyone is helping me live my dream. It really is because of them and their support that I’m able to do it. I know that working in concert and theater are completely different and basically, two careers, but I told all of them that’s what I wanted to do, and they are in full support.”
As a young person starting out, Brown didn’t know what she would be doing long term. She graduated from New York’s LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, and, as a dancer, was a vehicle for others to explore their own voice and movement. Like many dancers, she found herself working in other people’s companies, not creating and building her own.
Initially, Brown didn’t want to have a dance company. She was a member of Ron K. Brown’s group, a well-established contemporary dance company. It was a time when she saw the many hats a company director needs to wear. Seeing the power of Ron K. Brown’s choreography and mostly, the audience response to his work, Brown didn’t know if she had the stamina or the "voice" to move people the way he did.
“I realized that teaching and commissions for other companies were things that I didn’t love as much as focusing on my own company. I felt that I was still trying to understand what my voice was and I needed a more intimate kind of incubated process.”
“I didn’t know if I had what it takes,” she said. “By 2011, after a lot of experience, learning, understanding, I felt secure in saying that I had a company, but also wanted to pursue a career in theater and those are the things I decided to focus all of my energy on.”
Maintaining that focus, while still expanding her experience education, Brown has created choreography for a variety of dance companies, one of which is the Alvin Ailey Dance Company.
“Working with them was very surreal because I was a student at the Ailey school. To be at the front of a studio with people that I have admired for a very long time was exciting, but also extremely daunting,” Brown said. “It was very scary. I was still young and finding my way. It wasn’t until I formed my own company that I was able to really hone my voice and find my process.”
She found when choreographing for other companies, there is always a finite amount of time available which sometimes is as short as two or three weeks. With her own dancers, whom she knows very well,Brown has the luxury of time, where a work may be adjusted and reworked over a period of one or two years.
A master of many genres of dance, it is difficult to pinpoint her style. She usually calls iy "Camille."
“With every project, there is a specificity to the project,” she explained. With "Once On This Island"(Drama Desk, Outer Critics, and Chita Rivera nominations), it was Afro-Cuban, Afro-Haitian and West African, so it is still my choreographic voice, but those are the influences. "Choir Boy," which is in previews now, is more like gumbo dancing and "Jesus Christ Superstar"had no movement language that was necessarily attached to that show, it gave me the freedom to really dive in.”
“If I really had to describe my work, I would say it’s an amalgamation of tap and hip-hop, modern, and African, social dance and everything. It’s all in one. Taking all these forms and when it comes out, it’s me.”
Brown sees dance as being two-fold. On one hand, there is the very technical side including turns, kicks, and jumps that audiences see and are impressed with. The other side of dance resonates in the voice of the community and from every day people. She tries to connect those two ideas through her work.
“I want to see people on stage. For me, allowing the audience to feel familiar with what they see, is important.”
Without purposely having an agenda, Brown has become an advocate for dance, and more specifically, the Black dancer. She’s not trying to prove anything and, perhaps, that genuineness is why she is so accessible and why people respond so strongly to her work.
Brown says,”I believe there are many messages in dance. At the forefront, is that we exist. For a longtime,Black voices were not acknowledged and, to a point, today they still aren’t acknowledged. So, every time I have an opportunity to speak or perform, I believe when we, as choreographers, speak our voice, we are speaking for the people who are voiceless or whose voices have been muted. And just that the Black experience is a human experience.There may not be a balance of Black voices and mentions of Black people and I hope that we’re able to create that in work that we do.”
Brown looks back at the YoungArts experience as a time when she was believed in and “seen” for the first time. It was empowering. She recalls that even though it was a competition, the mission was to be your best for yourself. She has never forgotten that.
YoungArts Week performances/events are:
- 8 p.m. Monday, Jan. 7: Classical, Jazz & Pop Voice Performance
- 8 p.m.Tuesday, Jan. 8: Jazz and Theater Performance
- 8 p.m.Wednesday, Jan. 9: Dance Performance and Film Screenings
- 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan.10: Classical Music Concert
At New World Center, 500 17th St, Miami Beach, FL 33139
- 6 p.m. Friday, Jan. 11:Writers’ Readings, 7:30 p.m. Design, Photography and Visual Arts Exhibition Opening
- 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 12: YoungArts Backyard Ball
At the YoungArts Campus, 2100 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami, FL 33137
For more information or to purchase tickets to events and performances throughout the week, visit youngarts.org/galas