Camille A. Brown—Artistic Director of the New York-based company, Camille A. Brown & Dancers—is a celebrated choreographer who has carved out her own distinctively rich space in the dance world by developing physical languages and ideas to explore and celebrate black roots, ancestry, and life across its diaspora. Her enviably awarded resume includes work that spans the concert stage, theater, and film.
Preceding the Southern California premiere of her work, “ink,” at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on January 12-13, 2024, I had the opportunity to speak to Ms. Brown and her mentor—a paragon and icon of creative excellence who needs no introduction—Ms. Debbie Allen.
Allen and Brown’s relationship began when Camille was 11 years old. Ms. Allen first captured Brown’s heart at the same time she captured the hearts of so many black and brown girls with creative dreams—when we saw her command the room as Ms. Lydia Grant in the 1980’s phenom, “Fame.” Brown received her first chance to work with her “she-ro” when Allen came to the Bernice Johnson Cultural Arts Center to set “Stand Up,” from the 1989 Disney Movie, “Polly.” Brown was one of five chosen by Allen to perform the work.
As Brown grew older and continued her creative journey, Allen’s career and artistic breadth continued to inspire her. She later reconnected with Allen through a friend, after which the two stayed in contact. Brown received her second chance to work with her “she-ro” during the pandemic when Allen asked Brown to direct her and her sister, the fantastic Phylicia Rashad, for a virtual reading of Pearl Cleage’s, “Angry, Raucous, and Shamelessly Gorgeous,” as a part of the Spotlight on Play’s event hosted by Broadway’s Best Shows.
Now the two come together again for Brown’s Southern California premiere, this time with Allen cheering Brown on from the audience. Allen, who is a Wallis board member, was excited when she heard Brown’s company had been programmed. When I inquired about her excitement, Allen spoke of the Wallis’ commitment to “ensur[ing] the integrity of artistic diversity and inclusivity” in their programming and partnerships. As the Wallis prepares for a month-long “celebration of women and their art and their creativity,” Allen emphatically believes, there “couldn’t be a greater, more wonderful artist to bring [to the Wallis] as Camille Brown at this time.” Heralding Brown as a “trailblazer” and commending the breadth of her accomplishments at “[her] very young age,” Allen’s fondness for Brown and her creativity feels fantastical for Brown who shares that there are still moments when she thinks, “Oh my gosh, Debbie Allen knows who I am. You know, it’s just, it’s just miraculous to me.”
“ink” debuted at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 2017 as Brown’s “final installation of her dance theatre trilogy about identity” in the black experience. “ink” is “centered around Black Joy” and is an exploration of the ways it manifests—“through brotherhood, through sisterhood, through our struggles, and through our joys.” It is a sharing of that exploration from her lens, as she clarifies “there are different ways people express Black joy; this is just my way. It’s what I want them to know. It’s me seeing reflections of black people and putting that on stage, [sharing] my love of the culture and who we are…[It’s about] the community and what it means to be in community and be in relationship to each other.”
“ink” will be presented at the Marybelle and Sebastian P. Musco Center for the Arts, Chapman University on Friday, January 26, 2024 at 7:30pm. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit their website.
Written by Marlita Hill for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Camille A. Brown & Dancers – Photo courtesy of Camille A. Brown & Dancers.