On Monday, March 25, 2013, Evidence, A Dance Company, held its 9th Annual Gala at The Plaza Hotel in New York City. This year’s star-studded, black-tie affair hosted by actress Lynn Whitfield and chaired by Tonya Lewis Lee and Spike Lee paid homage to the late Beth Young, a dance enthusiast who studied dance from Senegal and Brazil and was a long-time Evidence supporter. She passed away last year. In a dance tribute to Young, the Company performed, Torch.
“This is the first time I created something about the joy of life and the journey of grief. It was full circle for me. When Beth passed away last year, I wanted to pay honor to her. I wanted to pass that torch and I realized that we [the dancers] are the torch. My board of directors respected how much the piece meant to me and respected how highly I spoke of Beth. They decided that we should have a Torch Ball,” Evidence founder and artistic director Ronald K. Brown told The Network Journal. Shortly after, he presented the Community Activist Award to Young’s twin sister.
The dance company blends African, modern, ballet and social dance styles to tell stories about the human experience. Founded 28 years ago by Brown, the Brooklyn-based company is best known for its celebration of the African Diaspora through spirited performances that are often set to a unique mix of gospel, house, and soul music. Brown is credited with choreographing the popular, crowd-pleaser Grace, a three-part piece anchored by the music of Duke Ellington and his first commission for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; he says he created it as a way to say thank you to Mr. Ailey. “I did my first commission for the Ailey Company in 1999. I made my first piece in the second grade after seeing the Ailey Company perform. Before that, I was a little boy who was afraid to take dance lessons. I wanted to make a piece for Mr. Ailey where I could say thank you. The word ‘grace’ came to mind,” says Brown.
Brown, who recently won a Tony-award for his choreography work in THE GERSHWINS’ PORGY AND BESS, started the company just out of high school and named it Evidence because he wanted it to be “a reflection of the human condition.” Now, Brown’s authenticity and talent have garnered the attention and financial backing of an impressive array of big-time donors from both the arts world and the Fortune 500 business community. In 1999, Reginald Van Lee, executive vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton, signed on as a member of the board. Today, he is Chairman Emeritus and served as the evening’s gala chair. “I was the first chair of the board for Evidence in 1999 and the life- changing experience that one gets through seeing this art form is so wonderful that I want to support it in any way I can. When I started, the Company had a $95,000 annual budget and now it has a $2 million annual budget – and a balanced budget – so it has come a very long way,” says Van Lee.
Valentino D. Carlotti, a senior partner of Goldman, Sachs & Company, has also shown tremendous support for Evidence, which earned him the 2013 Corporate Philanthropy Award. “When it comes to the mission of strengthening communities, Evidence stands at the center of creativity. The Company fosters tolerance and seeks culture and an ethic that we can cultivate. We are honored to support Evidence in achieving its mission,” said Carlotti upon receiving the award.
Distinguished guests and gala attendees which included R&B singer Freddie Jackson, Susan L. Taylor & Khepbra Burns, actress Tamara Tunie and husband Gregory Generet and investment bankers Chris Williams and Janice Savin Williams among others were treated to an elegant cocktail reception, the presentation of awards, dinner, a special performance of the Company’s new work Torch, and “Evidence After Dark”, a Young Patron reception which began at 8:30 p.m.
To view photos from The Torch Ball, click here.