A choreographer usually works solo -- one voice, one vision determines the dancers' movements. So when Ronald K. Brown was asked by Dayton Contemporary Dance Company to work with another choreographer in creating a piece for the group, he hesitated.
"I don't do that," he remembers thinking.
Until he heard that the proposed collaborator was veteran dance maker Donald McKayle. McKayle, whose career began more than 50 years ago, has captured the African American experience with passion and dramatic power in such modern dance classics as "Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder," about life on a chain gang, and "District Storyville," depicting the early days of jazz in New Orleans.
Brown changed his mind, accepted the job, and last year the two began crafting the piece, working side by side in the studio.
The Dayton troupe will perform the piece, "Children of the Passage," Saturday at the Columbia Festival of the Arts. Set to the jazz rhythms of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, it explores the spread of dance throughout the African diaspora and the notion of reconnection to one's ancestors.
The theme was echoed in the pairing of the established McKayle with the 32-year-old Brown. For McKayle, working with his younger colleague was a true collaboration.
"We were on the same wavelength -- we just had different vocabularies and they began to blend in a wonderful way," he says. "I would think for awhile, and while I was thinking he'd be dancing. I'd say, `What you just did, add that on over here.' And he'd be saying the same thing, and before you knew it the piece came together."
Of course, Brown didn't waste the opportunity to get a close-up education from an acknowledged master. The biggest tip he picked up from working with McKayle, Brown says, was problem solving. "Not saving anything for tomorrow," he says. "If there's a problem, you fix it right now. It's kind of matter of fact, with him."
As for McKayle, he said he, too, got something from Brown. Working together, he says, "was a blast."
DAYTON CONTEMPORARY DANCE COMPANY -- Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Columbia Festival of the Arts, Rouse Theatre. Call 410/481-6500.