Annique S. Roberts talks about dancing for Ronald K. Brown

Annique S. Roberts talks about dancing for Ronald K. Brown in advance of Evidence's Joyce Theater season.

Annique Roberts, Ronald K. Brown

Annique Roberts, Ronald K. Brown Photo: Julieta Cervantes

Annique S. Roberts talks about her career with Ronald K. Brown and her early years dancing for Garth Fagan. In this extensive interview, the quicksilver dancer discusses the her work with choreographer Ronald K. Brown and how she joined his company, Evidence. Annique S. Roberts and Evidence perform at the Joyce Theater starting February 12.

There’s no way to pinpoint a Ronald K. Brown dancer—they’re too diverse for that—but they all know how to tell stories with their bodies. This season, the quicksilver Annique S. Roberts, an exceptional member of Evidence since 2010, brings her silky phrasing, rhythmic clarity and overall effervescence to Brown’s choreography, which will be on display at the Joyce Theater beginning February 12. An Atlanta native, Roberts met Brown while studying at Howard University, but took a slight detour—before joining his company, she spent five and a half years dancing for Garth Fagan. That was then, this is now: She’s found her groove. 

Time Out New York: Why did you start dancing?
Annique S. Roberts:
My mom threw me into dance classes when I was four. I think it was either gymnastics or dance because I was just so active as a child and the dance studio was closer to home. It was one of those things I kept doing and ended up loving, and then I went to a performing arts high school in Atlanta. That’s where I started taking a lot of different types of dance apart from ballet, tap and jazz.

Time Out New York: Did you like those styles?
Annique S. Roberts:
Oh yeah. I loved tap. In college, we didn’t tap and that’s when I kind of stopped. In high school, I first got a taste of African dance and different types of modern dance like Graham and Horton. I went to Tri-Cities High School [for the Visual and Performing Arts], and the way it was structured then was we would have a technique class during the day and then class after school, and that would be when the entire dance department was together.

Time Out New York: How big was it?
Annique S. Roberts:
I think we were maybe 50 students. It was a good size. Our classes during the day weren’t more than 20 people. We had academics too. I loved math. I didn’t really skip school, but when I would decide to only go to certain classes, it was always dance and math.

Time Out New York: What were your aspirations at the time?
Annique S. Roberts:
I was going to be a lawyer. In my senior year I decided to pursue dance. I had a close friend that passed away in a car accident. What was really weird was that there were a few car accidents that year where kids my age passed away. There was something that just switched on in me that said if this is what you really enjoy doing, go ahead and do it. And my dad always told me, “Find something that you love to do and do it, and it’ll never be work.” I took that to heart and in spring of my senior year, after I had already applied to my schools, I decided to dance. Of all the schools I’d applied to, Howard was the only one that had a dance program. It’s crazy how things fell into place without me even knowing it. And then I met Charmaine Warren, and I was like, this is going to be hard work. [Laughs]

Time Out New York: She was one of your teachers at Howard University. Was she a taskmaster?
Annique S. Roberts:
Oh yes. She’s very demanding, and she was speaking in ways I didn’t know—she was speaking about the body from anatomical terms, and I was getting observation papers on dance performances back with Ds on them. I was a high achiever in school, an A student, and I wasn’t used to seeing Ds and red marks on my papers. I was like, What’s wrong?

Time Out New York: What was she after in those papers? Were you reviewing performances?
Annique S. Roberts:
Yes. Her thing was it’s an observation paper so you write what you see. And at first I think I was about writing what I liked, what I felt, and my opinions. She really wanted us to get into looking at what you see onstage and figuring out a way to put that on paper—and not just movement, but also the lighting and the costumes. And finding a way to take in everything that we were learning in school: She wanted us to draw on what we were learning in school and apply it to what we were seeing onstage.

Time Out New York: Did it help you?
Annique S. Roberts:
Oh yeah. I think you start paying more attention in class to what your body is doing and what you’re trying to say with the movement. What does it mean? Where does it come from? You start asking those questions. I don’t think I was approaching dance that way. I just did it because I liked it. It felt good. Charmaine taught a postmodern release class. I hadn’t had any of that. She taught writing about dance and ended up teaching us dance history. Dr. Sherrill Berryman Johnson was the other person. They were both strict about us knowing dance and being able to write about it. We weren’t just there for the studio portion of dance. Howard was like a conservatory inside of a liberal-arts school, because it was so very demanding of our time. Especially my freshman year: We had classes Sunday through Monday. We had to see a lot of shows. We were forced to see what was out there. We had oral presentations with a jury of teachers we knew and did not know. So we were challenged to be able to write and talk about dance and then also perform in the studio. And then the wonderful thing was all the choreographers who came.

Time Out New York: Like who?
Annique S. Roberts:
Ron was one of them. That’s where I first met him. Kevin Iega Jeff, Eleo Pomare, Christopher Huggins. I think a few members from Paul Taylor came. We had a company from Cuba come to work with us. Andrea Woods. Kim Bears-Bailey from Philadanco—she taught there actually. Ron came every year to set work on us.

Time Out New York: When you met Ron, did you know his work?
Annique S. Roberts:
I knew nothing. The summer before my freshman year, I went to Howard for a summer program. Ron taught on the last day of a five-day series. He was playing Gil Scott-Heron, and I remember thinking, Wait a minute—we can dance to this? This is okay? I was so inexperienced when I got there, and it was love at five, six, seven, eight. He had me from the first plié. His movement was very different, but something about it felt very natural.

Time Out New York: What was different about it?
Annique S. Roberts:
There’s a certain groove that’s in there that I hadn’t experienced in any other way. At first I was too inexperienced to understand the traditional languages that he used, but I did notice the rhythmic parts of his work that I liked. I had been a tapper, so maybe that’s part of why it felt natural to me. And Ron’s spirit is so engaging and open. It’s really easy to just enjoy his class, no matter how much experience you have. It didn’t seem too difficult, although I’m sure I wasn’t getting half of it.

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