Ronald K. Brown has a mantra: “Absolute Victory Every Day”

On April 26, choreographer and dancer Ronald K. Brown woke up and realized something was wrong. “I couldn’t figure out how to move,” he...


On April 26, choreographer and dancer Ronald K. Brown woke up and realized something was wrong. “I couldn’t figure out how to move,” he says. “I was like, ‘You’re a dancer. Why don’t you know how to get up?’

But Arcell Cabuag, Brown’s life partner and associate creative director of his company, Evidence, had a good idea what was wrong. A few years ago, her father had a stroke. “When I could tell Ron wasn’t moving on that side,” he said, referring to the left half of Brown’s body, “I had to call the ambulance.”

They rushed to the hospital, where Brown had a blood clot removed from his brain and told to begin rehabilitation as soon as possible.

“My family said, ‘No phone, no email, let’s take care of that. Focus on improving yourself, ”said Brown, sitting with Cabuag in an office of Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation in Brooklyn, where the company is based and rehearsing for an upcoming California tour and a season at the Joyce Theatre, March 22-26.

Brown, 55, is a formidable choreographer whose witty blend of contemporary dance with African and Afro-Cuban forms has made him one of the most important dance artists of his generation – or, really, of any what generation. For a stroke to happen to anyone would be devastating. But for a choreographer of his stature, it’s horrible to contemplate. Brown’s dance—her body—is the basis of her poetic and lovely works.

So far, he’s been quiet about the stroke. Cabuag and his family encouraged him not to make an announcement on social media, telling him: “‘You don’t want people coming out of the woods, wanting to come to the hospital or wanting to bring you food. ‘”, he said.

There was a reason for the intimacy. Brown, magnanimous and soft-spoken, needed no distraction from the only task that mattered: regaining mobility on the left side of his body. “Other people’s concern doesn’t help me,” he says. “I’m going to be put in a position to try to take care of people, and I’m trying to take care of myself.”

But his condition has not been entirely a secret. In October, The Washington Post reported that he attended the company’s performances at the Kennedy Center in a wheelchair.. “I know people want a breakup story, regardless,” Brown said, adding that “for the most part, I haven’t had to deal with that kind of energy.”

Brown has already made considerable progress, probably due to his deep understanding of anatomy and the body – his body. He walks, albeit slowly, with a cane. His left arm is in a sling. With no muscle tone, “the arm falls off its belt,” he said of his shoulder. “Nothing is holding your bones together.”

Lately it’s gotten better. He’s building more strength and “starting to move his arm now,” Cabuag said. “Actually, he has more control.

Reaching this point has been laborious. But Brown, like most dancers, is resilient. After one therapist thought he wouldn’t regain mobility in his arm, he moved on to another who started moving his shoulder blade and realized that Chestnut was the one who moved it.

And he was lucky – he didn’t lose feeling in his leg or arm, and his speech, unless he’s tired, is usually clear, even through a mask. Of course, he had to change his way of rehearsing and working.

“It’s a great lesson in humility,” he said. Instead of showing the movement to his dancers, “I tell them what to do, and they will do it,” he says. “My ego doesn’t have to stand up to show them. There are other ways, just talk to them and trust they can find it.

This was evident during a recent rehearsal for the earthy, uplifting final section of “Come Ye” at Restoration. “I want to see an alien come out of your body,” he told a dancer, who complied by adding more torque to his spine; he demanded “a little more grandma” from another, who immediately lowered herself closer to the ground.

But the most heartening part of the story is that Brown, whose health is generally good – he has no high blood pressure or a history of strokes in his family – is moving around as far as he is. After the stroke, he spent five weeks in round-the-clock care, first at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn and then at Kings County Hospital Center, where he underwent acute rehabilitation.

When he arrived, he said, he really had no movement in his left leg or his left arm. At first, her occupational therapist worked to get her used to moving for everyday life, including getting in and out of bed.

For a week, they wanted him to be able to stand. “It was so painful to stand on my left leg,” Brown said. “I just couldn’t do it. But on May 13, I was able to get up.

It was related to the music. Brown was working with a Kings County therapist, who wanted him to stand in a window and look out over the park. Laughing, Brown recalled, “So I said, ‘Arcell, go get that music.’ ”

It was “Victory”, a gospel song by Maranda Curtis that Cabuag had played for him earlier. With the therapist on one side and her assistant on the other, they helped Brown up and sit down. They paused and when the music reached its peak, Brown, without any support, stood up.

“We were all in tears, the therapists too,” Cabuag said, and again being a dancer helped. “They were like, ‘It would have taken a month to be able to do this.’ ”

At that point, Brown came up with his mantra: absolute victory every day.

He quickly progressed to the next level: walking. He also started reading books about stroke recovery, which led him to learn more about nerves. He made a strange discovery: when he yawned, his leg activated, the result of oxygen traveling to his brain. He could feel his leg, but when he yawned it was different. “All of a sudden it was like a little baby,” he said, as his fingers danced over his upper thigh to show how he would suddenly come to life.

A nutritionist recommended hyperbaric oxygen chamber therapy, which is now an integral part of his recovery. On June 11, he was fired from Kings County.

Brown’s recovery keeps him in a state of continued wonder; small steps are big wins — or absolute victories. He refuses to think about his prognosis. “I think I blocked it all out,” he said, “because I’m gonna dance soon.”

Brown not only dances like no one else, he also dances like no one else by choreographing a world of sound – weaving musical tapestries – as well as a visual world. In his remarkable ‘Grace’ (1999), created for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, the music – afrobeat and house, together with Duke Ellington’s magnificent ‘Come Sunday’ – gives the dance life and breadth, gravity and its lightness and, ultimately, its spiritual transcendence. “Grace” is a classic, just as important in the dance canon as the 1960 masterpiece, “Revelations,” which put Alvin Ailey on the map.

Brown also made many classics for his own company. There are no premieres in her Joyce season — lineup includes “Ebony Magazine: To A Village,” “Come Ye” and “Upside Down” — but that’s beside the point. The more you see a Brown dance, the more you enter and penetrate it; his dances are exhilarating. (This summer, he’ll unveil “The Equality of Night and Day,” featuring music by jazz composer Jason Moran, at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.)

Brown still maintains a company, although this has become less common in the contemporary dance world; many choreographers enjoy working with dancers on a project-by-project basis. And reconciling the artistic and administrative aspects of a business is never easy.

The Joyce stepped in to help. In 2015, the theater began working with Sharon Luckman, a former executive director of the Ailey Company, in conjunction with a grant to give companies performing there administrative assistance.

Linda Shelton, executive director of Joyce, said Luckman discovered that Evidence had lost its tax-exempt status, which meant it would lose financial support from individual donors and foundations. “There’s so much paperwork you have to do to maintain this, and they just weren’t doing it,” Shelton said.

Still, Brown’s impact on the dance field was too great to let his company slip away. “He has a valuable role to play as a creative storyteller right now through a body of work and a legacy of promoting the black experience through Evidence,” Shelton said, adding that “his influence on a generation of dancers is an incredible story”.

The Joyces created a plan to explore a new idea: what if the theater managed the company? “I think it really freed Ron up,” Shelton said. “The idea was, ‘Ron, don’t worry about the audit or the 990s or whatever. were good at this. You stay in the studio. ”

Initially, the relationship was to last three years, starting in 2018; it continues as Joyce evaluates the plan to determine what the next step is. “We want to do what’s right for him and for the company,” Shelton said. “Maybe it’s to continue this. He may be trying to get his 501(c)(3) back. Is this the best thing for the company, for Ron? Is there anything that could be better?

In 2017, the company’s budget was just over $500,000; now it is almost double that amount. The Joyce handles the administrative side of the evidence by acting as a fiscal sponsor; it also does fundraising and even employs a business manager who coordinates rehearsals and tours, as well as an interim general manager.

And it provided Brown with something much-needed and all-too-rare in the dance world: health insurance.

The therapy Brown received — and continues to receive — is critical to his recovery. The people he met were also significant, including a nurse who showed him a video of his mother walking down the street a year and a half after she had a stroke.

“She said, ‘Don’t listen to what the doctors say about your prognosis and when you’re going to walk,'” Brown said. “‘Only god knows.'”

Brown also watches videos of Tara Tobias, a physiotherapist whose work involves people who have had a stroke. “She said there were all these theories about how to make people walk,” he said. “Is that the number of steps you take per day? How fast are you walking? She said, “I just want you to practice walking properly. It’s not about how many steps. Just keep walking until you can walk.

She helped him enormously, he says, with — of course — with Cabuag.

Brown, looking at Cabuag, remembers what he told her after the stroke. “It was so deep,” Brown said. “‘You taught me to dance, and I’ll teach you to walk.'”

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Newsrust - US Top News: Ronald K. Brown has a mantra: “Absolute Victory Every Day”
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