Brontez Dance Company, with Brilliant Colors, Pigs, and Tagi Maalik at the Berkeley Art Museum • February 11, 2011
Review by Anna Brown, photos by Janelle Blarg
When does modern dance defy boredom? When Brontez Purnell is on stage.
The debut performance of The Brontez Purnell Dance Company at the Berkeley Art Museum felt like a watershed moment. Maybe it was the physical space. A museum has a way of making things seem momentous, different from a warehouse or a punk club where witnessing unique, radical performance is expected. But on a Friday night in February, I had the feeling Brontez Purnell + dancers may have done the impossible: made “free jazz” relevant to punk. Consider this: there is nothing more punk than getting on stage and doing something that scares the shit out of people. In this case, it just happened to be dancing.
Brontez Purnell, MRR columnist, noted author of Fag School ‘zine, and member of bands the YOUNGER LOVERS and GRAVY TRAIN!!!!, can really dance. He began leading “free movement” classes to a bunch of fearless volunteers in San Francisco and has been channeling his enormous energy toward choreography — live, and in short films — ever since. To watch him move is something to behold. He says, “I started back in October and wanted to do this as a way to exorcise my dance demons. I was working on some pieces at school (I’m a theatre/dance major at Cal State East Bay) and wanted to see the pieces come to life. I wanted to start a company that was mostly people I saw at shows. Some people had issues with my lack of ‘professional dancers,’ but they can suck it.”
On this night the amazing conga player Tagi Maalik, and the bands PIGS and BRILLIANT COLORS, provided the musical backdrop for a series of short pieces punctuated by black-and-white films. In one scene, PIGS played a pounding rendition of “Electric Funeral” as the dancers depicted an impressionistic story of death and rebirth. There were three or four acts, some were narratives with a story to tell, others were loose and groovy. Finally, the audience was invited up on stage to participate in a lesson, so we, the spectators, could feel the dance revolution for ourselves.
Punk + free movement. Could this be the beginning of something transformative for us all? Brontez Purnell and Company are daring you to inhabit your inner dancer: Move and be moved.