Trisha Brown Dance Company
Trisha Brown Dance Company
The Joyce Theater, NYC
February 5–10, 2008
Reviewed by Eva Yaa Asantewaa
What becomes a (famously modest) legend most? Creeping across the bare bricks at the rear of a darkened stage? Scooting around two “robots”—plain cardboard tubes attached to remote-controlled chasses? The New York premiere of Trisha Brown’s I love my robots (2007) left me wondering just what it is that the choreographer sees in these featureless toys.
Designed by architect Kenjiro Okazaki, these simple, slightly bobbing things stand like gentle sentinels or sweep aside as if opening new space for the mainly heedless ensemble dancers to inhabit. In the work’s closing minutes, Brown, the only human in sight, plays with the robots like a child. “How old are you?” she suddenly—and a little sharply—inquires of them. (One might ask her the same, and the answer is 71.) Then: “I hear my mother calling. ‘Come home and take a nap.’ See you tomorrow?”
One fights the urge to read all kinds of poignant things into those final words. But the bigger temptation—in my case, irresistible—was to dismiss this unsatisfying section just as I had learned to ignore the presence of the robots throughout. Instead, I focused on the Brownian accumulation of dancers and the genius of bodies made to appear preternaturally quiet, soft, and supple. I drank up every bit of Laurie Anderson’s delectable soundscape, including singer Antony’s vocal vibes.
Aside from the robo-visitors, this piece is of a kind (yet suffers by comparison) with the program’s opener, Foray Forêt. This 1990 treasure has the jaw-dropping opulence of Robert Rauschenberg’s costumes, lighting (with Spencer Brown), and projected backdrops that lend it the aura of a late, American sunset and twilight. Zestful dancers slip and shimmer through the golden air, their swooping follow-through giving rebounding resilience to the organic logic of Brown’s movements. Clever exits and entrances and all manner of surprising foolishness happen at the wings. A live, but unseen, marching band surrounds the theater in Sousa with a dash of Eurythmics, sounding far away and faint—a spookily odd way to ask the audience to hear and absorb musical accompaniment. Once, maybe twice, the band does sound near enough to burst onto the stage, but it never does.
I love the Trisha Brown who can pull off something that nutty, and the one who, in 1994, gave us a solo like If You Couldn’t See Me, dancing the entire thing with her back to the audience, letting that fluent, twisty back do the talking. Leah Morrison has now stepped into this prime role, with its liquidity, its suspense and suspension, and Brown could not have found a more graceful successor.
(Photo by Mike Peters, Courtesy Trisha Brown)