The Tribute as Oasis

September 15, 2008

There’s something comforting, and at the same time inspiring, about tributes to elder choreographers. Janis Brenner had revived the second movement of Porcelain Dialogues, a Murray Louis classic from 1974, for her own 25th-anniversary concert last year. This past weekend, the American Dance Guild included it in their performance festival at DNA Dance. The piece was an oasis of shimmering calm, quiet craft, and echoing shapes. All six dancers have had long and fruitful careers: Michael Blake, Janis Brenner, Betsy Fisher, Peter Kyle, Sara Pearson, and Robert Small. There was such love and quiet joy in their faces, such breath in their bodies (no one cared if they wobbled a bit on the one-legged balances). Maybe because Murray Louis was in the house, they performed it with great devotion. Their heads turned toward each other to connect, or looked away to gaze at the world; their arms wafted down from a high fifth. As gentle as it was, the piece was never lulling because every new group shape was revealing in some way. At the end, they broke up into three pairs, and in long extended lines, descended to the floor. As the last notes of Tchaikovsky’s Quartet in D sounded, each woman, behind her partner, reached up to the sky and then encircled the man, clasping him close. The word that spread around the audience as “satisfying.”

    It reminded me of my own foray into such a tribute last February, when I danced in Trisha Brown’s Spanish Dance as part of Juliette Mapp’s concert at Danspace. (And hurrah! Juliette just won a Bessie last night for Anna, Ikea, and I, the work that contained Spanish Dance.) It’s ironic (or interesting) that it was mounted not by a former Trisha dancer, but by someone who always wanted to dance with her. (Juliette danced most of her career with John Jaspers.) It felt so good to be fully absorbed in Spanish Dance (which I had performed often with the Trisha Brown Company in the mid-70s). Not just the delicious feeling of spooning behind another dancer while simply treading across the floor to Bob Dylan singing Early Mornin’ Rain, but allowing Trisha’s genius simplicity to come through us.

     These old favorites are calming to see and do many years later. Somehow it feeds the soul to cycle through old favorites and find that they still nourish us.