The Trisha Brown dancer takes risks but stays in control.
Some dancers have their careers fall into place. Not Tara Lorenzen. The pixie-like dancer auditioned three times over half a dozen years before landing her dream job at the Trisha Brown Dance Company. “I loved the work so much,” she says. “I’d never seen dancers like that. Ethereal, cool, all doing the same thing but each very much an individual. But there was something in me that hadn’t matured. Maybe I hadn’t come to an understanding of it yet.”
Lorenzen first tried out for the company right after she graduated from the BFA program at SUNY Purchase in 2005. But she then took herself out of contention when she was invited to be in Merce Cunningham’s repertory understudy group. The second time, a couple of years later, she nearly made the final cut.
But it wasn’t until the third time around, in 2011, that everything clicked. “She immediately stood out,” says associate artistic director Diane Madden. The company was looking for a versatile partner—“both being lifted and lifting,” Madden says. “Tara’s small and she’s strong, and very capable. She’s a risk taker, but not in a reckless way—she’s in control of her body.”
Lorenzen’s dancing flows naturally in Brown’s choreography. Her movement is both liquid and precise; it seems organic. She started dancing when she was 2 after her mother found a ballet studio in Winchester, Virginia, a half-hour drive away from the family’s home in Summit Point, West Virginia. Gennadi and Susan Vostrikov taught classes on the raked stage of an old church. “It was bizarre,” Lorenzen says, “but I think it allowed me to understand weight and traveling.”
She took classes twice a week, then started attending ballet summer intensive programs, first at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet and then at Richmond Ballet. Lorenzen was accepted at SUNY Purchase after applying on the advice of one of her CPYB ballet teachers, Richard Cook, a Purchase faculty member. But instead of training the summer before college, Lorenzen worked as a rafting guide on the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers. Rather than arriving at Purchase in peak form ready to dance, “I turned up tan and with scars,” she says.
She soon found herself struggling with her ballet classes. “I knew something wasn’t right,” she says. “I was working really hard for something that wasn’t going to work in the long run. I was short; I was kind of wild—and there’s an identity associated with being a ballerina that just didn’t work for me.”
Finally, her sophomore composition teacher, Kazuko Hirabayashi, steered her to the Merce Cunningham studio. “She told me that I wasn’t going to be a ballerina,” Lorenzen says. “I did a summer intensive there, and I fell in love with it.” It was the path she needed to the next phase of her dancing. “It’s such a clear technique,” Lorenzen says, “and within that clarity, there’s so much room to be incredibly virtuosic. And that was perfect for me.”
Soon after her graduation, Cunningham asked her to be in the company’s repertory understudy group, which he would use to develop new work while his company was on tour. “When the company came back, we would hand the work over to them. It was heartbreaking,” she says. “But I was able to have this amazing relationship with that man, and that was worth what I gave up.”
After two years, she says, it became clear to her that she wasn’t going to get a slot in Cunningham’s full-time company. After auditions for the Trisha Brown Dance Company, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane, and Shen Wei, she was almost ready to give up dance when Trisha Brown alum Stephen Petronio offered her a job; she remained with his company for three years.
When she finally returned to Trisha Brown in 2011, it was as an apprentice, and her initial job was to sit next to Brown and film the improvisation process. She loved the chance to hear Brown’s observations, as well as to finally dance her work. “It’s great to learn to do things you don’t think humans can do,” she jokes.
It took a little while for Lorenzen to shift from the big, full-blown movement that Petronio is known for to the ease and simplicity of Brown’s choreography. “She’s really smart and perceptive,” says Madden. “She welcomed the challenge.”
Today Lorenzen feels at home in the movement, and has become one of its most accomplished performers. “She has a very feminine, voluptuous quality,” says Madden, “but there’s also this spunkiness. It’s a really captivating combination. She’s down to earth, but she’s a star.”
Rachel Elson is an NYC-based writer.