New York

Trisha Brown

City Center

As one of the original members of the radical Judson Dance Theater in the early ’60s, Trisha Brown has always been a thinking choreographer who puts movement in the service of structural ideas. Accumulation with Talking Plus Watermotor, 1978, was a solo dance that stressed the relationship between movement and structure with a spontaneous monologue describing the development of the movements of the dance while she performed them, in a constantly changing interactive process. Her latest work—titled, with her characteristic wit, Newark (the New Jersey city, pronounced “new work,” with the accent on the “new”)—demonstrated the continuing evolution of her choreographic vocabulary. In recent years Brown has increasingly hidden the structure of her dances to allow a freer play of kinetic invention; her ’80s trademark has been a stream-of-conscious-thought movement that revels in evenly flowing phrases of isolated body parts and large gestures. In Newark, Brown solved the one problem inherent in this style—its apparent meandering and lack of dramatic contrast—by introducing gymnastic-like positions that were held, thus creating miniclimaxes that imparted a sense of direction to the continuous flow. Also, in a recurring unison duet (performed by Lance Gries and Jeffrey Axelrod), Brown has created her best dancing yet for men. The added muscle and heft of their falls and turns injected some physical punch and dynamic accents into the farrago of swirling action. And Brown’s relatively new company made all this action riveting (with long-time company member Diane Madden as a stunning standout in this and the other works on the program).

Like many of her works since 1979, Newark was created in collaboration with an artist from another medium—in this case, the sculptor Donald Judd, who designed the decor and, in addition, a “sound concept” that was orchestrated by Peter Zummo. Judd had worked with Brown before, more successfully, in Son of Gone Fishin’, 1981. His visual presentation for Newark was an overblown extension of the discreet modular design he had produced for the earlier work. Here, the simplistic decor-notion-parading-as-an-Idea consisted of huge flats that were raised and lowered at shifting intervals throughout the dance, creating—what else—larger and smaller space, and providing changing backgrounds of five intense hues: cobalt blue, two shades of red, bright yellow, and rust brown. Meanwhile, the overall silence was intermittently broken by a long, reverberating tone that resembled something between a gong and a high-school gym buzzer. Because the timing of these peripheral events was unpredictable, their structure remained hidden; but their blatant quality clashed with the gentle mystery being conjured by the choreography, which had the effect of dragging down the Brownian motion.

This mismatch of media was shown up by an older work on the program, Lateral Pass, 1985, a kind of third-world Midsummer Night’s Dream gambol. Here, Brown’s luscious movement was surrounded with a hauntingly atmospheric score by Zummo and a decor consisting of spectacular, quasi-aerial map sculptures by Nancy Graves. With its whimsical costumes (also by Graves)—including tubes that sat on the dancers’ shoulders like fake snakes—and its air of communal frolic, Lateral Pass jelled as a playful and serious Gesamtkunstwerk in a way that the more earnest, literal Newark missed completely.

Reviewed by John Howell.