Sisters Forever in Trisha's Spanish Dance

posted by Wendy Perron on Monday, Jan 30, 2012
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Wendy

I must’ve been grinning like a crazy lady all through Spanish Dance. It was such a blast to do that dance with other Trisha Brown alumnae last Friday; this was during her 75th birthday/benefit/auction.

You may have seen the piece, or seen a photo of it. Five women in white, evenly spaced across front of the stage—or, in this case the Sikkema Jenkins Gallery—gradually accumulate to form a single, very female, organism, one at a time joining the sensual treading, all to the Gordon Lightfoot song “Early Mornin’ Rain” sung by Bob Dylan.

Between the end of the four-minute dance, when I reluctantly pulled away from the other women’s bodies, and the bow, I lost it. Maybe it was seeing Trisha in the audience, mouthing the words “I love you” to us; or maybe it was knowing I probably would never do this dance again; or maybe it was remembering how much I loved the three years I danced with Trisha in the 70s, but tears welled up and I couldn’t keep a calm face while taking a bow. Later, a number of people in the audience told me that they had gotten weepy too.

 

Spanish Dance at the Sikkema Jenkins Gallery, Jan. 27, 2012, with Lisa
Kraus in front. Photo © 2012 Hal Horowitz, Courtesy TBDC

 

Spanish Dance is usually a funny dance. It’s so odd and delicious to see these women, one by one, pile up, with their torsos’ smashed together in hip-sinking unison, inching across the space. You have to be relaxed enough to feel the rhythm of the women behind you and and in front of you. Your gaze has to calmly travel over the audience. At the last beat, when the front girl hits the wall (or the proscenium, depending on the site), the audience usually laughs. It’s a good punch line, not because it’s a surprise but because it happens precisely on the last note of the music.

My four compatriots were Vicky Shick, Irene Hultman, Lisa Kraus, and Elizabeth Garren; all are juicy movers—still, after 30 or more years. We had had such a good time rehearsing the day before and getting into our “costumes” of pajama-like whites. We had what could be called over-the-hill, bawdy fun. We are bound together as sisters in our love Trisha—for her knowing us each in that intimate dancer way, for challenging us as artists, for her kindness, for her thought-provoking threads of genius.

One of the non-bawdy jokes was something that younger, career-minded dancers would probably not say out loud. In Spanish Dance we each raise our arms in our own  faux-Spanish way. After the first run-through, Diane Madden, rehearsal director extraordinaire of the Trisha Brown Dance Company, told us all that our arms were beautiful. OK, nice. Of course. Then Elizabeth Garren blurted out, “But whose were the best?” We all cracked up. Competitiveness never goes away, even after all these years.

Like the champagne and gogi berry vodka that were served to the donors, our nostalgia-laden version of Spanish Dance was used to loosen up the crowd. As soon as we entered the gallery space, a whoop went up among them. It was obvious that they knew and loved this dance. A treat. A paradoxical delicacy. A dip in the waters of female intimacy.

Meanwhile, more than 40 works of art, donated by the artists or their estates, hung on the gallery walls waiting to be auctioned, proceeds to go to the Trisha Brown Archive.

I had several wonderful conversations with guests. One man told me he had actually sent a DVD of Spanish Dance to Bob Dylan, because he felt it captured the melancholy of the wandering soul just as the song did. (Spanish Dance is many things to many people.) I am still wondering if Dylan ever watched it.

 

Spanish Dance c. 1977 with, left to right: Lisa Kraus, Mona Sulzman,
Trisha Brown, Wendy Perron, and Elizabeth Garren. Photo © Babette
Mangolte, Courtesy TBDC