Get on the Good Foot: A Celebration in Dance honored the life of James Brown (1933-2006), musician, songwriter, dancer, and the self-declared “Hardest Working Man in Show Business.”
The production was a conglomerate choreographed by Otis Sallid, Derick K. Grant, Souleymane Badolo, Thang Dao, Aakash Odedra, Ephrat Asherie, Jennifer Weber, Camille A. Brown, and Ronald K. Brown. Using dance, music, voice recording, and costume inspired by Brown’s style, messages, and fans, the choreographers presented works that celebrated Brown’s rhythmic and soulful music, and were danced by members of PHILADANCO, Ephrat Asherie, Derick K. Grant, and Aakash Odedra.
Even the logistical aspects of this production seemed to commemorate Brown, from venue choice (Brown honed his craft at the Apollo Theater and recorded his legendary album Live at the Apollo there) to the October 22-26 run (Brown’s ascent to national and international fame began after the October 24, 1962 show at the Apollo was recorded).
Initially, the program quickly and seamlessly transitioned through short, straightforward movement vignettes. I appreciated this approach, which might have been an ode to Brown’s own “hit it and quit it” motto.
Things changed halfway through, during Thang Dao’s Bewildered. Rowdy applause and shouts from the audience indicated that others found the movement entertaining and surprising. Yet, during and after this section, I found the choreography mostly roundabout and lengthy, and the formations and spatial patterns unimaginative. Most ensemble movement phrases were executed in two lines oriented toward the audience with the dancers spaced in ‘windows.’ By the time Ron Brown’s Think came along, my focus had drifted and I found myself thinking that the performance could have been at least fifteen minutes shorter.
I am still wondering why three of Brown’s songs—“I Got You (I Feel Good),” “Get on the Good Foot,” and “I Got the Feelin’ ”—were reused in five of the program’s eleven sections— Benon, Ecstacy, 1973, Out of Sight, and Think. Was this decision an artistic choice pertaining to the program as a whole? Or was this just a case of multiple choreographers wanting a chance to present their own interpretation of those popular songs?
All of the dancers in the cast were strong, skilled, and a pleasure to watch. PHILADANCO’s Adryan Moorefield’s dancing—a mix of sensuality and athleticism—was especially brilliant.
However, interspersed moments of dancing by guest artists Aakash Odedra, Derick K. Grant, and Ephrat Asherie were welcome changes-of-pace from the eventually repetitive and predictable movement style of PHILADANCO’s members.
Odedra provided a swirling burst of energy in Ecstasy, a creative remix of dance and music that mixed the Brown’s sound and movement style with the dance and music of British South Asia.
Grant’s shimmering costumes, infectious smile, and brilliant technique seized the audience’s attention, bringing brightness, humor, and excitement to the stage in Superbad, Live, and Get Up Offa that Thing.
And Ephrat Asherie was the picture of elegance and strength in It’s a Man’s World and Out of Sight. Incorporating more appearances by the three talented guest artists probably would have avoided the eventual monotony of this program.
I left the theater feeling somewhat unsatisfied with the dance production I had seen, but with my my spirits noticeably higher than when I arrived. There’s something about James Brown’s music that lifts you up, I suppose.
All Photography by Shahar Azran.