Part of the DX Family Tree: Christal Brown and The Opulence of Integrity

Photo by Robert Mayer

Every so often, Dance Exchange gets the opportunity to reconnect with an artist who is, in some way, part of the Dance Exchange family tree. This month, we’ve had the pleasure of being in conversation with Christal Brown. Among many other things, Christal is the founder of INSPIRIT, the Chair of Dance at Middlebury College, and a former Dance Exchange apprentice.

On March 8 and 9, Christal is presenting The Opulence of Integrity, “a multimedia ensemble work inspired by the public life and inner searching of boxing’s outspoken superstar, Muhammad Ali. Inspired by Ali’s career as a boxer and life as a social activist, public martyr, and human being, Christal deploys her eclectic movement vernacular to illustrate the turmoil of a life infused by divinity yet misinterpreted by humanity. By using Ali as an archetype, The Opulence of Integrity explores the homogeneous inner struggle for identity as it pertains to men of color in the United States. The Opulence of Integrity is an evening length work divided into four movements. Each movement is introduced by DC’s own Patrick Washington who use quotes from Ali to set the scene for each movement experience that follows. There is also an element of projection that lays the backdrop for the cultural and social energy of each time period. The musical score for the work was created by Zimbabwean composer Farai Malianga, whose contemporary take on the subject matter supports the choreography every step of the way. Lighting design by Nick Hung provides the audience with the feeling of watching history through the frames of old tattered photos while Aya Shibahara’s costuming infuses vibrancy and individualism into each character. The performance is 1 hour in length with no intermission and a brief Q and A with the cast and choreographer will occur immediately following each performance.”

Photo by Sophie Bufton

As this incredible team of collaborators is gearing up for this performance, DX had the opportunity to connect with Christal about her career, her work, and what she has carried with her from her time at Dance Exchange. 

DX: Can you talk a little bit about your history as a mover and maker?

Christal Brown: As a mover I was fashioned like most. I grew up taking tap, jazz, ballet, and acrobatics from the age of 9.  After graduating high school, I attended The University of North Carolina at Greensboro where I was introduced seriously to modern and contemporary forms.  After graduating from UNCG I had the honor of joining Chuck Davis’ African- American Dance Ensemble (AADE). AADE taught me about the African Diaspora through movement, culture, and community. Upon my departure from AADE I was invited to apprentice with Dance Exchange, along with Cassie Meador.  My time at Dance Exchange taught me about movement as a language. I then continued my professional career with The Bill T. Jones/ Arnie Zane Dance Company as an apprentice before finding a permanent home with Urban Bush Women. As a mover and a maker I have been able to integrate the information I gathered from each of these dance pioneers as well as the colleagues I shared in each of these experiences.  My movement vocabulary continues to change as I grow in my artistry.  Each piece requires its own language, therefore I’m always learning and trying to use my past as prologue.

DX: Can you talk more about your experience at Dance Exchange? What was your role in the company?

As an apprentice at Dance Exchange, I had the opportunity serve as the assistant to Liz Lerman.  This relationship was extremely instrumental in shaping my work as an artist, entrepreneur, director, and educator.  Because of my degree in business I was asked to be logistically responsible for Liz’s schedule and personal tasks.  In turn she agreed to consult my artistic work.  Having her eye on my work and the gift of being in her presence changed my perspective on what it means to have a life in dance.

DX: What values, questions, or practices did you carry with you from your time with DX?

From Dance Exchange, I carried the artist/executive structure that helped me build my company INSPIRIT, a pedagogy for entering community, a value of for personal narratives, and an understanding that relationships are what make the work work.

Photo by Sophie Bufton

DX: Tell me about The Opulence of Integrity. What narrative(s) are you and the dancers exploring? What questions is the work asking?

The Opulence of Integrity is a work that looks at the life of Muhammad Ali as an archetype for men of color who strive towards greatness.  The narratives are historical and contemporary, acute and obtuse, global and personal.  The questions are about freedom.  What is it? Who has it? At what cost? And, what happens when a divine purpose is interrupted by humanity.

DX: What’s on the horizon for you and this work after the showing at Joe’s Movement Emporium?

We are currently partnering with TAON magazine to create a national tour for the work.  In the meantime, we will continue to perform the work in as many communities as possible so that the perception of men of color in this country becomes more accurate.

Dx: Thanks so much Christal! We’re looking forward to seeing The Opulence of Integrity at Joe’s Movement Emporium (3309 Bunker Hill Rd, Mt. Rainier, MD 20712). Sunday, March 8 and Monday, March 9 at 7:00pm. Tickets: $18-$25. More information HERE

About Amanda Newman

A graduate of the University of Utah Department of Modern Dance, Amanda joined Dance Exchange in 2014 as Resident Artist, Communications Coordinator, and Youth Programs Facilitator.