It usually takes a dancer many years of auditioning and gaining life experience to be noticed by a major company. But that's not how it went for Cleveland native Antonio Brown. He graduated from the Juilliard School in 2007 and immediately auditioned for the internationally acclaimed Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company. After numerous callbacks and a week in rehearsal, Jones invited him to join.
Cleveland dance audiences will see Brown perform for the first time since he left town, when DanceCleveland presents the Bill T.Jones/Arnie Zane Company here on Saturday. They'll perform Jones' Fondly Do We Hope ... Fervently Do We Pray, which looks at the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, taking its title from his second inaugural address, given when Union victory in the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves were all but complete.
Compared to most contemporary dancers, Brown had an early start. "You could probably say that my performance career began in the third grade," he says, describing himself as an only child with a whole lot of energy. Knowing that he needed a positive outlet, Brown's mother enrolled him in Newton D. Baker Elementary School of the Arts, where he studied music, art, dance and theater.
Brown then attended the Cleveland School of the Arts. He decided to major in dance because, he thought "it would be more fun than sitting around all day." Brown didn't just find fun; he found a true passion that led him to where he is today.
Brown's schedule has been packed with dance since going to New York. When not touring, a typical day starts with a two-hour company class, followed by six hours of rehearsal. When he has free time, he takes other dance classes and works on his own choreography. He also maintains a busy schedule working with two other New York-based dance companies — Camille A. Brown & Dancers and Gregory Dolbashian's Dash Ensemble.
Brown also creates work with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company. The dancers are an integral part of the creative process. Based on Jones' movement ideas, the dancers explore and create phrases, which Jones then shapes, manipulates and edits.
Brown stresses that Jones is "interested in us as individual dancers and features us in our best light" and "challenges us into things that we wouldn't have thought possible or what we would have chosen ourselves." Brown views the 10-member company as being a family whose diverse experiences and energies are a source of inspiration.
Brown's passion for dance is audible in his voice when he talks about his plans for the future. "Right now, I am loving dancing, teaching and choreographing," he says. Eventually Brown hopes to translate this passion into a company of his own.