Trisha Brown Dance Company

April 13, 2005

Photo by Julie Lemberger

Trisha Brown Dance Company
Rose Theater, Jazz at Lincoln Center, New York, NY

April 13–16, 2005

Reviewed by Jody Sperling

Of the seven works in the Trisha Brown Dance Company’s 35th-anniversary season, the much-hyped premiere how long does the subject linger on the edge of the volume . . . was the least impressive. For this piece, which utilizes the latest in motion-capture technology, data (produced live by the dancers’ actions) was crunched by some computer algorithm to produce giant projections on a scrim in front of the performers. The graphics vary with each performance. One night, the visual designs began with simple white lines and angles, then morphed into spider web-like shapes, smoky blobs, and various polygons—an experience reminiscent of a laser Zeppelin rock show.

Only at one point—when an enormous stick-figure apparition hovered in front of a soloist—was the direct correlation between human and electronic motion obvious. The visual elements, created by the techno-design team of Marc Downie, Shelley Eshkar, and Paul Kaiser, dwarfed the dancers’ movements, despite Brown’s broader and less intimately quirky than usual vocabulary. A charming solo, in which Neal Beasley twisted himself through his arms in uncanny ways, was barely discernable through the visual noise, and even the clever ending, when the dancers clustered together and took turns winding the leg of a central figure around like the blade of a propeller, got lost in its surrounds.

How long
represents only the most recent of Brown’s many experiments with interactive and multimedia explorations. Program A offered four works created in collaboration with the artist Robert Rauschenberg. For Glacial Decoy (1979), Rauschenberg placed four panels across the back of the stage. Projections of his captivating black-and-white photographs shifted from panel to panel, like a huge filmstrip running horizontally, for the duration of the dance. At times, Brown echoed this four-frame formation by lining her dancers—outfitted in translucent white, tentlike dresses—across the space, four abreast. When the women, who moved in unison, shifted sideways, the dancer on one end slipped out of view while another suddenly appeared at the opposite side of the stage, filling the vacant spot. This recurring spatial device suggested a chain of dancing women that extended well beyond the proscenium’s limits. Since Glacial Decoy was the first work that Brown created for a proscenium setting, it’s not surprising that she found a way to tease its edges.

Brown herself conceived the visual design for her starkly beautiful Geometry of Quiet (2002). Two huge triangular swaths of white fabric, pulled onstage by the dancers and extending into the wings, suggested enormous snowdrifts in an arctic landscape, while Jennifer Tipton’s lighting evoked the timelessness of a white night. The piece began with two women (Sandra Grinberg and Brandi Norton) balanced in arabesque. They took turns deepening their penchés, creating fascinatingly odd angles with their bisecting limbs. This duet was the first of several curious and analytic encounters. Salvatore Sciarrino’s music, performed live by flutist Mario Caroli, was equally elegant and exploratory. Audible breathing sounds suggested the intimacy of a human voice and the whisper of wind.

Brown set her 2003 PRESENT TENSE (a New York premiere) to John Cage’s early Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano. Dating from the 1940s, the music has a wonderful delicacy and strong Eastern influence. Brown’s lightly antic dance was masterfully inventive, especially in the group partnering sequences. Throughout, the choreography breezily suspends the dancers in off-kilter positions. In one repeated move, several dancers scoop up Todd Lawrence Stone and give him a 360-degree ride like a Ferris wheel.

Brown has shown that she knows how to assemble buoyant motion into serious works of art. A reprise of her 1994 solo If you couldn’t see me demonstrated that at age 68, she’s still a spry performer as well.

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