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PRINT September 2008

TRISHA BROWN

BOB AND I HAD an uncanny connection. One significant difference between us was that there was always a measure of safety built into what I was doing, but Bob would just plow ahead. (However, he once flattered me by saying that when considering a radical idea he would ask himself, What would Trisha do?)

I met Bob around 1961, when I was a work-study student at the Cunningham studio. He would call and engage me in the most hilarious conversations. Finally, I asked around: Who is this Bob Rauschenberg? Someone enlightened me with the simple comment: He is a very famous painter, and he has an exhibition at the Jewish Museum. I went. I understood for the first time why anyone would choose to be a painter over a dancer. Later, I met him at Judson [Dance Theater], where he was running the lights, which in those days meant turning them on or off.

A friendship emerged and solidified when we realized that our parents both had a penchant for sending us care packages with copious amounts of food: mine, thirty pounds of salmon; his, roasted ducks packed in popcorn.

Bob saw so much when he looked. If he fell in love with what he saw, he stopped at nothing to work with it, even if it was against the law. When I invited him to design the costumes for Glacial Decoy [1979], he was hell-bent on using translucent fabric. Suddenly, I was dealing with nudity on the stage. I told Bob I would not have made that scissor kick facing the audience if I had known the costumes would be so revealing of one’s private parts. He wanted exposure, sculpture, revelation of secrets. This trend continued over the years; he designed a solo for me, titled If You Couldn’t See Me [1994], accompanied by his improvised music, and he requested that I never reveal my face to the audience. His first proposal for a costume was that I dance naked. I was fifty-six years old at the time.

He pursued ideas to their heroic conclusion in spite of negative advice. You would not want to stop him and you could not stop him even if you tried. This scenario unfolded over and over again during our collaborations. When I was not allowed to participate in outdoor festivals because my sets required the support system found only in indoor theaters, Bob proposed a solution. He created a self-sufficient set of eight towers with car headlights, wheels, a sound system, and sensors that changed lights and sound when a dancer passed by. Bob was always aware of cost overrun and that a dance company had to be vigilant about such matters. He even went so far as to suggest, when things were tight and we could only have one set on tour, that we use the towers for another choreography; he would place gels on the towers so we could use them to form a new landscape with color. True to his artistic zeal, he solved not only the original problem but also ones that had not yet arisen.

On the morning of my last day in Captiva [Florida], I woke early enough to take a walk on the dunes. As the sun rose, the moon descended. When they reached equal levels, I held my hands out, connecting them. I walked back to the house and told Bob the story. That was the last time I was able to talk to him.

Trisha Brown is a New York–based choreographer.