Award-winning choreographer, director, dancer and School of Dance alumna Camille A. Brown told UNCSA graduates that they are warriors who must continue to be brave to reveal their authentic selves on Saturday.
“You are an artist and an athlete,” said Brown, whose choreography can currently be seen in Terence Blanchard’s “Champion,” at the Metropolitan Opera. “We train hard and get in the game every time. We take the blows, we ache and we bleed with passion for what we do and create.
“Our bruises are real but so are our triumphs and today, I’m looking at warriors who won the day, are examples of hard work and perseverance, and people who are paving the way for the next generation of warriors coming after you.”
Brown addressed nearly 300 graduating undergraduate and graduate students and their families and friends at University Commencement, which was presided over by UNCSA Chancellor Brian Cole.
In addition, Chancellor Cole and Provost Patrick J. Sims presented Brown with the honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts. Brown received a B.F.A. in 2001 from the School of Dance at UNCSA, where she studied contemporary dance.
Saturday’s ceremony was livestreamed; watch Brown’s commencement address at 1:10:05. The ceremony was held at Wait Chapel on the campus of Wake Forest University.
"It’s a tough industry,” Brown said. “It’s lions and tigers and bears out there. That is just the honest truth. …
“This business will show its many sides but through it all lead with your most authentic self. That requires you to be brave and being brave and courageous means to be truthful to who you are. Bravery has to come from your core. Your core is at the belly of your heart and your heart is what fuels your soul. … Push through the fear. Being in the game is also a choice. Listen to those moments, when the universe is telling you to be brave.”
Brown urged the graduating students to “continue being a student of life. I think it’s important for you to never stop learning, never stop being curious. The universe will constantly find new and different ways to ask you who you are. You will be challenged. You may face circumstances that force you to make life-changing decisions. And with every choice you make, you’ll come to have a better understanding of who you are, how you operate, what you want, and what you will and won’t stand for. You’ll grow your artistic muscles.”
Continuing to relate her formative experiences, Brown said: “If I blink, I can see myself sitting where you are 22 years ago. I was thrilled, excited, and relieved. Ever since I was a teenager I had a lot of struggles, all centering around the ideal body type. The lows of that experience are equaled by the high of finding my love for choreography here. … What I learned in the years after graduation was that my challenges were not over.
“As a Black woman – as a Black female director and choreographer, it was constantly reiterated to me that this is a marathon, not a sprint. The lesson I had in school about finding freedom through choreography continued to be reflected in my experiences as a professional and regardless of the struggles, I learned how important it is to find liberation in all circumstances. …
“Rejection has been my greatest liberator. The rejection of not always fitting into the ideal body led me to finding my own voice through movement. … One of the toughest parts of my career as an artist was to get out of my own way and continue sharing my voice, regardless of whether people understood it or not.”
Brown continued: “You are a group of artists that have found ways to reach people with your art. You know what it means to have a love that may be past other people’s understanding. … You are at the precipice of the next chapter of your life. A new beginning. An exciting new world. Your teachers have given you the tools and now it’s time to walk your individual paths. …
“I want you to always remember the joy that was first found when you knew you were meant to be an artist,” she concluded. “Whenever you may be confronted by the pains of this industry, look toward joy. Take a minute, and reflect back to when you fell in love with your art. Remember that feeling and hold it closely. That is going to be the life force that keeps you going.”
A prime example of a multi-hyphenate, Brown began her professional career as a dancer with Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE and in 2006 founded her own company, Camille A. Brown and Dancers, of which she remains artistic director. In addition to choreographing for her own company, she began receiving commissions from other companies, including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Urban Bush Women, Philadanco! and more. Subsequently, she expanded beyond dance companies to choreograph off-Broadway (from “The Fortress of Solitude” to “Much Ado About Nothing”) and on Broadway (from “Once on This Island” to “Choir Boy”). She has also brought her talents to film and television, with the likes of “Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert” on NBC and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” on Netflix.
In 2019, she took another step outside her comfort zone to choreograph “Porgy & Bess” at the Metropolitan Opera, followed by Terence Blanchard’s highly acclaimed “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” in 2021. She has also expanded her career into directing, becoming the first Black artist to direct a mainstage production at the Met Opera, with “Fire,” and also making her Broadway directorial debut in 2022, with “for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf,” which received seven Tony Award nominations.
For more on Camille A. Brown’s career, see the commencement program online(Page 7).
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May 08, 2023