New York

Trisha Brown

World Financial Center

This outdoor concert of works by Trisha Brown was a mini-retrospective, a double bill featuring one of the choreographer’s earliest works followed by one of her most recent. Raft Piece, 1973, demonstrates two elements typical of most early Brown dances: a structure in which movement accumulates over time, and a quirky physical setting—here, the four dancers performed flat on their backs on four floating rafts. The governing concept is a perceptual conundrum aimed at creating phenomenological doubt: how to see a rigorous structural ordering subjected to the whimsical factor of chance, as represented by wayward water currents. In Raft Piece, the random elements are increased by the vagaries of individual timing; the dancers cannot see each other, and the dance is performed in silence, offering no sound cues. Originally staged in a still pond in front of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Raft Piece suffered grievously this time out for its intended unpredictability. The powerful Hudson River tidal currents quickly drew all four rafts away from the spotlit area at the center of the marina. The difficulty of Brown’s perceptual puzzle was immeasurably increased by this act of Mother Nature, but not in any rewarding way—one could hardly see the dancers at all, much less make out individual variations in the deployment of Raft Piece’s movement.

By contrast, the outdoor setting of Astral Convertible, 1989, on an open stage in a vast plaza, greatly expanded the range of motion that could be seen. Richard Landry’s score, a melange of croaking swamp frogs, whining circular saws, spoken radio broadcasts, and snatches of music was augmented by the aural environment of overhead airplanes, passing boats, and other waterside ambient noise. Soon after Astral Convertible began, this accompaniment took on the aura of a live broadcast, giving voice to what was literally in the air —an impression reinforced by the taped sounds’ switching on and off in response to the dancers’ movements. This latter feature was echoed by Robert Rauschenberg’s unusual lighting, provided by car headlights mounted on chrome frames that were scattered around the stage. These units functioned not only as interactive lighting elements but also as fixed points of reference for Brown’s quicksilver dancers as they traveled their scattershot paths.

Astral Convertible’s structure is the opposite of that of Raft Piece, a measure of the choreographic ground Brown has covered in the seasons she has had her company. Brown’s typical late-movement style—the rubbery gestures, liquid phrasing, and nonstop, fluid transitions—offered its usual kinesthetic delights and then some. Outdoors, in the huge plaza, the work’s relationship to natural body configuration and moment-to-moment moods was somewhat clearer than in the more formal confines of the City Center in New York, where the piece premiered last spring. Yet another twist on this alternate version of Astral Convertible occurred when the dance was multiplied by reflection in the large glass surfaces of the adjacent atrium. The piece’s bustling performers and blinking beams of light blended in with the continuous pedestrian movement up and down the nearby escalators and with the bright interior lights of the enclosed space, creating yet another, ghostly Astral Convertible—a replica as beguiling and as inventive as the original conjured into being by a happy accident.

John Howell