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Pennsylvania Ballet Braves Trisha Brown Terrain

For the first time, an American ballet company will perform a complete work by Trisha Brown. Considering how unballetic her choreography is, it’s a brave move on the part of Pennsylvania Ballet.

The work, a quiet, dreamlike trio titled O zlozony / O composite, will be part of PAB’s “Balanchine and Beyond” program, Jun 9–12. Also on the program are works by Balanchine, Hans Van Manen and Jean-Pierre Frohlich.

Paris Opera Ballet dancers in O composite, photo by Julieta Cervantes @2009

O composite was originally made for Paris Opera Ballet in 2004. The French adore Trisha Brown and many of her pieces premiered in Paris, so it makes sense that the French companies (Lyon Opera Ballet has also done a Brown ballet) got to her first. The original cast of O composite was three of Paris Opera’s most glamorous étoiles: Aurélie Dupont (now the artistic director of the company), Manuel Legris and Nicolas Le Riche. They infused her choreography with a rich, velvety smoothness.

I say “brave” because the choreography has no multiple turns or extravagant leaps guaranteed to thrill an audience. But it casts a certain spell, so subtle are Brown’s movements and so mysterious is Laurie Anderson’s soundtrack of whispered poems (in Polish) and sputtering noises.

Angel Corella, newly at the helm of PAB, told me recently that when he was in Spain, he was aware of Trisha Brown’s impact when her company performed there, so he is totally behind this project.

Neal Beasley watching PAB dancers Lillian DiPiazza and Aaron Anker rehearsing O composite, photo by Alexander Iziliaev

It will be interesting to see how the PAB dancers negotiate Brown’s slippery movement and elusive imagery. Former Trisha Brown dancer Neal Beasley, who is setting the trio on PAB dancers, said in this blog that capturing her sometimes off-balance quality has a lot to do with trust.

PAB’s performance of O composite concludes a yearlong celebration in Philadelphia called “Trisha Brown: In a New Body,” organized by Lisa Kraus. There have been performances by the Trisha Brown Dance Company, classes and talks (some of them given by me) to acquaint Philly’s audience with the work of this beloved modern master. No doubt Philly’s most active dance website,, will have plenty to say about this meeting of the minds: the ballet mind and Trisha Brown’s postmodern mind.

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An extraordinarily private person, few knew that during this time Brown was in the midst of a health crisis. It started with an upset stomach while performing with her company on tour last summer.

"I was drinking ginger ale, thinking that I would feel better," she says. Finally, the pain became so acute that she went to the emergency room in Mississippi. Her appendix had burst. "Until then, I didn't know it was serious," she says. "I'm a dancer—aches and pains don't keep you from work."

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