New York

Trisha Brown

Trisha Brown opened her company’s twenty-fifth anniversary celebrations with the remarkable solo Accumulation, which she first performed in 1971. Wearing a white top above loose-fitting trousers and standing barefoot with knees very slightly bent on the apron of the stage, she extended one balled hand toward the audience (thumb turned down), rotated it, and then replayed the sequence with her other hand. She then used this movement as the opening bar to a series of repeated motions, piled one upon the other. A seminal and iconic work, Accumulation became a blueprint for qualities that would be seen throughout this retrospective: a relaxed body framed by precise structure; repetitious movement interspersed with improvisation; and a rigorous analysis of the body in space coupled with a sense of the absurd. Evidenced also was Brown’s early fascination for the double helix of mind and body that has been the starting point for her most visceral explorations into dance movement.

Set and Reset, 1983, a pivotal work among the ten that comprised three separate programs, elegantly layered Brown’s ideas and sensibilities. A collaboration of sorts—Laurie Anderson supplied the music after seeing a video of Brown’s early choreography, while Robert Rauschenberg designed the costumes and a stage with transparent wings, forcing Brown to play into them—Set and Reset is a kaleidoscope of movement designs that fade in and out of focus like the film images projected on the geometric scrim above the dancers’ heads. The piece nods to both the past and the future; a dancer walking along the back wall held aloft by several performers is a reference to Brown’s earlier “equipment pieces,” while complex partnering patterns hint at combinations that would be elaborated in such later works as Newark, 1987.

Each work illustrated how Brown pushes the boundaries of her own vocabulary and style. Even her guest artists, Steve Paxton, Stephen Petronio, and Mikhail Baryshnikov, were intended as catalysts in Brown’s ongoing conversation with herself about how movement can be made to mean more, yet still surprise and delight. Paxton—master dancer from the Judson Church and Grand Union days of the ’60s and ’70s—appeared in a duet with Brown, their bodies as loose as can be without actually falling down, while Petronio’s brilliantly executed solo, completed in less than a minute, represented a successful transposition of the “softer” forms associated with Brown’s movement studies to a muscular style. Baryshnikov, on the other hand, added a dash of classical eloquence to Brown’s iconoclasm.

M.O., 1995, and Twelve Ton Rose, 1996, achieved a classicism and monumentality all their own. Not only were the stark sets with their black velvet curtains as imposing as the colonnades of a Beaux Arts building; the music (by Bach and Webern, respectively) was of a grandeur that at first seemed antithetical to the choreographer’s radical composition methods. Yet Brown located what was radical about these composers and responded in kind, with movements so refined and complicated as to take her vocabulary into unexpected realms. Such a subtle and unexpected treatment of form is no doubt a sign of the choreographer’s experience. Indeed, watching her company work its way through twenty-five years of dance history left one eagerly anticipating Brown’s next move.

RoseLee Goldberg