Mr. Cabuag, who is Filipino-American, has been in Mr. Brown’s orbit ever since. In 2004, the same year that Mr. Cabuag won a Bessie, or a New York Dance and Performance Award, he became the group’s associate artistic director. What follows are edited excerpts from a recent conversation with the pair in Bedford-Stuyvesant, where the company is based.
What are you trying to get across in “Den of Dreams”?
RONALD K. BROWN I want to celebrate this friendship. He’s been the longest member of the company, and we’ve worked together on everything. Our work relationship has a range. There’s the administrative side. And then to be in the dance studio with this guy — we get to take all of that off. [Laughs] Let’s be artists.
ARCELL CABUAG It’s forcing us to put the email and the phone away and close the laptop. Go in the studio. This is why I’m here.
It’s the moment where I’m following Ron dancing; he’s creating something, and we’re letting that zone happen. This part reminds me of when I first got into the company, looking at his feet and trying to capture it all.
How did Arcell end up in Evidence?
BROWN He would come take class, and one day he said, “Ron, I would like to be an apprentice.” I don’t really believe in apprentices — but he convinced me. I had him understudying a role.
CABUAG There was one day in a rehearsal — they were working on [the 1998 dance] “Upside Down” — and Ron said: “Everybody come over here, and Arcell lay down. We’re just going to pick you up and walk across the studio.” The next week, I was telling the dancer I was understudying that the dancers were going to lift him up when Ron said, “No, Arcell, that’s your part.”
The next day, he said: “Arcell, do you have a passport? Do you want to come to the Ivory Coast with us for a couple of weeks and be in the company?”
Ron, what was it about his dancing that you were so drawn to?
BROWN It had a certain kind of fire. Maybe for the other scholarship students this was their opportunity to be seen and get a job. He was just going for it.
Have you had many tap dancers in your company?
BROWN No. His relationship to rhythm helps. I don’t really count so much, but if I sing the rhythm of it, he can follow. He hears the rhythm.
CABUAG Even when we’re teaching or working with the Ailey company [where Mr. Brown has choreographed several pieces], I tell dancers: “Watch Ron’s feet first. Get the rhythm in the feet.” Once the feet happen, you can really see what’s going on with the torso. Everything is moving independently. You compartmentalize what’s going on, and then it’s really just the feeling of what he’s doing. I think with Ron’s work, too, is that it just feels good.
What are you thinking about in terms of the new duet?
BROWN Not in a literal way, but it’s almost [Arcell’s] journey to Evidence and discovering this way of moving that he didn’t know about. It’s almost having a dream come true that you didn’t know you had. [Laughs]
How has your relationship to dancing changed as you’ve gotten older?
CABUAG I’m learning how to feel it more. Now I feel a deeper sense of really listening to what Ron is saying. He will tell us stories, but not say, “This connects to this movement right here.” It’s more about, how do we take that story and really listen to it so that it comes through our bodies? As opposed to, “I told you this story about my grandmother, so that means I want you to open your chest.”
There’s a lot of texture in his work, and before I was kind of going for the outside of it. I want to go deeper inside. Especially the Afro-Cuban dancing. I really like moving that way.
BROWN We went to Cuba, and I think that opened up his range in a way. He realized, I don’t have to hit everything. I think he used to have a snap in his dancing. And there’s was always this intense focus that could feel a little angry.
Let the audience come to you a little bit. That is the biggest change.