Trisha Brown Dance Company

September 30, 2010

Trisha Brown Dance Company
The Whitney Museum of American Art, NYC

September 30–October 3, 2010

Reviewed by Eva Yaa Asantewaa


Walking on the Wall at the Whitney. Photo by Graham E. Newhall, courtesy TBDC.


Shifting. Drifting. Peering from windows. Glancing up and gazing down. Avid audiences kept on the go within and around New York’s Whitney Museum for “Seven Works by Trisha Brown.” This 40th-anniversary celebration of Brown’s troupe, focused on repertoire from as early as 1968, included live performance, dance on camera, and a sound installation.

I joined Brown’s moveable feast on a dismal afternoon when the weather forecast threatened the day’s culminating event—a revival of Man Walking Down the Side of a Building (1970) with guest artist Stephen Petronio taking the role of Man and the museum’s 75th Street–side wall playing itself as Building. Luckily, the expected tempest held off. A harnessed Petronio made his descent—legs loping, toes extending into brief, shaky contact with the wall, arms stiffly swinging into space. It took mere minutes for Man to touch down on street level with a big thumbs up for the cheering crowd.

Although, in retrospect, Petronio’s act seemed anticlimactic, we loved this exploit. Of earlier events performed in a second-floor gallery with watchers bunched around, Spanish Dance (1973) won the warmest reception. Brown’s unpretentious simplicity of intent and design combines here with gentle wit and sensuousness. Dancing to Bob Dylan’s version of “Early Morning Rain,” a woman gradually advances across a narrow path, rhythmically swaying her hips and raising her arms in flamenco curls. Still moving, she locks onto the rear of a woman in front of her, setting off this dancer’s own swaying, curling and propulsion. This pattern repeats several times until Brown has accumulated a line of dancers coupled like freight cars.

Other works performed in the gallery included Accumulation (1971), Walking on the Wall (1971), Leaning Duets 1 (1970) and Falling Duet 1 (1968). Given the close-up intimacy of the space, the audience could get a better feel for Brown’s impersonal yet tender machinery. We could empathize, within our own bodies, with the dancers’ spatial re-orientation. At times, it made my heart pound!

Out in the sculpture court, guest performers from Tisch School of the Arts’ Second Avenue Dance Company took the Floor of the Forest challenge, in which a few dancers maneuver within a high metal frame that supports a cheerful collage of T-shirts and slacks attached to a firm grid of thick ropes. While this task piece looks, at first glance, like a very odd way to dry clothing, it turns out that dancers must grip and press against the ropes to find ways to shimmy into and out of the garments. Viewers watched their progress and struggles from the sidelines, from the museum’s indoor cafe window, and from atop the court’s surrounding walls. All that was missing, it seemed, was a big shaker of fish food.