The Trisha Brown Dance Company stopped by the UW World Series recently, for what was both a homecoming and a farewell. Brown, born in Aberdeen, was a west coast woman who attended Mills College and studied with Anna Halprin before she went to New York in 1961 and became a leading figure in the postmodern dance movement. However, this short run (February 4-6 at Meany Hall) marked the company’s final performances on a proscenium stage. The company will continue to perform in galleries and other site-specific settings, carrying on the legacy that Brown began in her early creative years. Seattle got to witness a bit of that, too. The tour included a performance in the Seattle Art Museum’s lobby as well as the re-mounting of one of Brown’s most well known works, Man Walking Down the Side of a Building (1970). Rachael Lincoln of BANDALOOP (and UW dance faculty) performed Man Walking, which takes all of 90 seconds. Lincoln stood atop the west wall of Meany Hall, connected by a cord, leaned out over the edge and fell—a long controlled fall mitigated by a functional stride down the building. It’s a piece of modern dance history that encapsulates Brown’s approach, which prized pedestrian movement (quite literally in Man Walking) and questioned what spaces could be used for performance.
Brown began to explore choreography for the proscenium stage in the late 1970s, and this provided the programming for the Meany shows. The evening opened with Son of Gone Fishin’ (1981), a dance of complex patterns and sequencing with six performers and music by Robert Ashley. The movement was quintessentially postmodern dance: the dancers moved with a relaxed but attentive body through choreography based on everyday human movement—walking, leaning, falling (but never to the ground, at least in this piece), running, jumping. Parts of the dance were like watching elegant but matter-of-fact popcorn popping. With so many things happening, it was almost tiring to follow, but the composition always shifted just before the overstimulation took hold—a unison moment, a lighting change. It ended without warning and the music faded; there was no narrative arc in either. This was a dance alongside music rather than dance to music.
You Can See Us (1995) provided a stark contrast to Son of Gone Fishin’. Spare and visually quiet, this duet featured Cecily Campbell and Jamie Scott in white leotards with long white panels hanging down in front and back. Brown collaborated with artist Robert Rauschenberg on music and visual elements to create an eerie, almost unsettled atmosphere. Electronic tones comprised the music and the performers were bathed in red light (lights designed by Spencer Brown with Rauschenberg). Campbell and Scott moved largely in unison, although they often faced away from each other—spatially separate, their togetherness in time added to the work’s uncanny effect.
Another duet, Rogues (2011; music by Alvin Curran), adopted a more casual, conversational kind of unison, where the two dancers drifted in and out of sync. Marc Crousillat and Stuart Shugg clearly danced the same movement phrases, but each performed it as an individual. They often echoed each other. One fell half a second later, the other swooped around with a subtly different energy. A cool, dark stage enveloped the dancers, once again lending an unsettled note to the world on stage.
Present Tense (2003) closed the evening with imaginative partnerwork that illustrated just how many ways one can get up and over another human being. All seven company dancers performed in this work set to John Cage’s prepared piano music. Present Tense allowed more stillness to see discrete shapes and moments even while each sequence connected seamlessly. Every new lift, every new movement idea was a surprise, but a logic became clear as each sequence completed. The Crayola-bright palette of the dancers’ pants and tops as well as the enormous painted backdrop (Elizabeth Murray) added to the work’s playfulness. This playfulness is integral to Brown’s work and postmodern dance in general—while not every piece is composed to inspire a smile or chuckle, the creative process of making dance is serious play.
The Trisha Brown Dance Company performed February 4-6 at Meany Hall. More information on the company can be found here. The UW World Dance Series continues with Cuba’s Malpaso Dance Company this Thursday-Saturday, March 3-5.