Last Chance to See Trisha Brown’s Works Onstage
This week in New York City and next week in Seattle bring a bittersweet occasion: the last time the Trisha Brown Dance Company performs on a proscenium stage. Although the company will continue to present dances outside of the concert stage, these two weekends are an opportunity to see, once again, that Trisha Brown made dances like no one else.
Brown's Set and Reset. Photo by Julieta Cervantes
On the program are three extraordinary works. The first is the exhilarating Set and Reset (1983), with beguiling music by Laurie Anderson and visual design by Robert Rauschenberg. I’ve watched this masterpiece 15 times and still am caught off guard by its daredevil antics. The second is Present Tense (2003), with John Cage's music for the prepared piano (meaning the innards of the piano are treated with bobby pins and paper clips to make it sound more percussive). Both these dances have different ways of being airborne: Set and Reset is more spontaneous, with dancers seemingly flung into the air. In the later work, several dancers knot together to send one of them sailing through space, sometimes upside down.
Brown's Present Tense. Photo by Dirk Bleicker
The last piece, Newark (Niweweorce) (1987) digs its heels in. It’s gravity bound rather than aerial. Solid as a rock. The sound score by Peter Zummo is solid too—a mercilessly consistent drilling noise. But this piece too has surprising group partnering. In fact, the last 10 minutes—the “pitch and catch” section—is so strange and beautiful that it was copied almost verbatim by a younger dance artist. Another pleasure is watching how the Don Judd drop cloths of earthen hues bisect the space, rudely interrupting the dancing.
After next week, the company will be engaged in its “In Plain Sight” series. As Gia Kourlas explained in a New York Times article, this series re-imagines some of the early pieces as well as segments from the proscenium works in different environments.
If you look at the dancing between the lines, you can get a glimpse of the wild young girl who grew up in the Pacific Northwest exploring the forests, climbing trees and wishing she could touch the sky.
More than once, when I'm sporting my faded, well-loved ballet hoodie, some slight variation of this conversation ensues:
"Is your daughter the dancer?"
"Actually," I say, "I am."
"Wow!" they enthuse. "Who do you dance with? Or have you retired...?"
"I don't dance with a company. I'm not a professional. I just take classes."
Insert mic drop/record scratch/quizzical looks.
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