A Collective Tribute to Trisha Brown

April 7, 2013

When Lance Gries invited 50 dancer friends to improvise with him for The FIFTY Project, it not only celebrated his 50th birthday, but also celebrated a rich vein of downtown dance. Videotaped moments from these 50-minute duets spread across the walls of La Mama Galleria last week.

The project was blessed by Sarah Stackhouse, who had been Lance’s teacher at SUNY Purchase. A force of nature in José Limón’s company in the 1960s and ’70s, she still has a luscious, almost ecstatic quality in her dancing. What a treat to see her here, in one of the opening scenes.

Lance worked closely with videographer Mike Taylor to give shape to the freewheeling, sometimes low-key jam sessions. They projected the different videos in quadrants on the wall, sometimes four or six at a time, thereby creating a quiet or funny or moving patchwork.


Lance’s partners, clockwise from upper left: Diane Madden, Juliette Mapp, John Jasperse, and Jimena Paz


An aesthetic of simplicity, internal awareness, and silence infused the dancing. Soft bodies, sensitivity to other energies, lines forming and dissolving. Very Trisha Brown—who sometimes choreographed with the express aim of capturing the improvising body.

Humorous moments came from Jodi Melnick, Randy Warshaw, and David Thomson, who seemed jauntily exasperated as he strode toward the camera to get a chair. Robert La Fosse provided instruction to Lance on first position in the arms, then flew off the screen in a blurry grand jeté. Diane Madden welcomed the camera boldly with her eyes, arms outstretched. Vicky Shick’s vivid brand of sensuality glided across the screen. The halting hesitancy of Ralph Lemon’s arm gestures had its own poignancy.

Every once in a while the whole wall went blank, and we waited for the images to return. Who will be dancing with Lance this time, and where on the wall? When Juliette Mapp slowly formed a formidable symmetry with Lance, Mike Taylor’s choice was to empty out the other quadrants and just concentrate on that one.


Clockwise from upper left: Vicky Shick, Diane Madden, Randy Warshaw, and Eva Karczag


Through it all, Lance, dressed in white, danced in his grounded, gentle, strong way, attentive to each person. He was a steady partner for those who wanted, a witness for others who wanted to go wild.

Many of the dancers, like Lance, had been a member of Trisha Brown’s company. A number of them had also studied with Sarah Stackhouse at Purchase. (Trisha once told me that she trusted anyone who had studied with Stackhouse—which was interesting to me as their styles are so different.) But others had not: Ralph Lemon, Juliette Mapp, Jeanine Durning, Jonathan Kinzel. This project was a testament of how the Trisha Brown influence has spread beyond her immediate company members (of which I was one). To be more specific about lineage and connections, Lance created a map, below.

But before I get to the map, I repeat here Lance’s dedication:

“These presentations of The FIFTY Project are dedicated to Trisha Brown, whose radical explorations of dance’s formal and physical language transformed our aspirations for dance; whose intelligence, humor, and dancing spirit has inspired, and continue to inspire all of us represented here. My deepest gratitude and a big kiss to you, Trisha!”


Click photo to enlarge.