"Trisha Brown is the Sexiest Dancer Alive," says Petronio.
The men in Trisha Brown’s company never got to do Spanish Dance, that slowly advancing line of swaying hips and spooning bodies. So yesterday at my last talk on Trisha at DTW, six post-Trisha choreographers and I did Spanish Dance to “break the ice” before our talk. No one had access to the Dylan song, so we used part of Bizet’s Carmen. Stephen Petronio, Keith Thompson, and Stacy Spence finally got their wish to sway, pelvis to pelvis, along with us girls. It was bumpier than usual, but lots of fun. You should try it.
So, the talking part of this “Talking About the Work” series: Here are some quotes from the six panelists’ responses to my question: What did you get from working with Trisha that you could put into your choreography?
How movement stands on its own, “undressed”—that it can shine through even without sets, costumes, and music.
The attitude of the body, the relaxed, elegant way her dancers carry themselves. I couldn’t tell what she was doing. Everything was moving at the same time. My eye got trained, to see the simultaneity of a flurry of action, and be able to read that.
The first time I saw the company; I thought, “I need to be in that.” What I got from Trisha was the feeling that you’re standing at the prow of a ship and you really don’t know where it’s going. It was he greatest adventure. We were invited to be on that voyage of discovery. I learned that to be making something as an artist, there’s territory to be moved into that remains exciting.
Eva Karczag: Seeing Trisha’s company dance was love at first sight. I came from a classical background and wanted to unlearn my training. How could I put all of this unlearning into dancing? It gave me a place to do that. I admired her physical imagination, the feeling that the body can go anywhere. There was always curiosity, exploration, and subtlety.
Being in the company was an education on how to work. Watching Set and Reset, I felt like the dancers had a personal way of moving. When I had to learn repertory, I thought of it as an expansion of myself.
Stephen Petronio read a terrific essay about what Trisha meant to him for the book Trisha Brown: Art and Dance in Dialogue, 1961–2001. If you don’t have the book, I recommend it.
When I asked what they did differently from Trisha as choreographers, Stephen said, “Trisha is the sexiest dancer alive and no one talks about that.” So he took his work in the direction of frank sexuality. Keith said he concentrated more on rhythm. Lisa said she needed to air the neurotic part of her. Vicky kind of agreed with that. Eva, who improvises now, felt less connected to Trisha’s work when it went into big theaters, but Stephen immediately said that’s where he felt more at home.
From the audience, Nancy Dalva asked a great question: If you could choose one Trisha dance to do again, which would it be? The answers surprised me. I would have thought Set and Reset because it’s so glorious, and dancing to Laurie Anderson’s music must have been really fun. But almost all said they’d pick Glacial Decoy. That’s the one where it looks like the dancers, wearing Rauschenberg’s white nighties, continue dancing offstage. At the same time, Rauschenberg’s projected photos also seem to extend offstage. And it is danced to…silence.
Above Right: Photo of Glacial Decoy by Julietta Cervantes, Courtesy Trisha Brown Dance Company