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Trisha Brown Dance Company Presents Bits of History and a World Premier at Meany Hall

Written by Kristen Legg
Set and Reset
Photo by Deen Van Meer.
When one thinks of Trisha Brown, images of sinuous bodies, emotional disconnect, and a blending of visual art and dance come to mind.  The company’s performance at the UW World Series, gave the audience just that, plus a bit more.
Trisha Brown Dance Company presented four works, three of which were from the late 70s and early 80s.  First was Set and Reset, a work from 1983 that truly defines Brown’s style.  The piece opened with a large fabric sculpture sitting on stage with four projectors trained on it, presenting news reels and images from history.  As the sculpture slowly lifts above the Marley floor, the stage becomes lit.  Through sheer wings and backdrop—a set created by Robert Rauschenberg—the dancers’ shadows can be seen preparing to enter the stage.  As the dancers enter the stage, they still appear ethereal; each moving with swings, rebounds, and joint flexions that seem to be dictated, not by muscles, but by marionette strings.  A definite dance step is rarely seen in this work, and yet it is clear that Set and Reset, like all of Brown’s masterpieces, is intricately choreographed.

The next work was a short solo performed by Neal Beasley.  In this piece, Watermotor, Beasley was accompanied only by his breath as he moved about the space.  While still flowing and light, this work incorporated quick direction changes and moments of held stillness into Brown’s movement style.  The stunning thing about this piece is that music would ruin it.  Hearing the dancer’s breath while moving with such intent is (excuse the pun) breathtaking.  Watermotorwas originally performed by Brown in 1978.  
The last historical work of the evening was Opal Loop/Cloud Installation #72503.  The work started with four dancers moving through smoke machine-created clouds, wearing silk costumes designed by Judith Shea, a renowned sculptor with a background in textiles.  The dancers moved in close proximity, sometimes getting lost in the clouds, with no apparent connection to one another, except in a few beautiful moments where movement would sync up and the dancers would “see” one another.  The work ended quite strongly with a set of split duets.  The dancers suddenly come together, sitting on the floor, and then proceed into duets in which one couple dances together and the other is spread apart across the stage.  The work provoked a sense of these four unrelated people meeting in a dream.
Les Yeux et l’âme
Photo by Ikegani Naoya/Saitama
Arts Foundation.
After a second 20-minute intermission, the final work of the night—a world premier of Brown’s newest choroegraphy, Les Yeux et l’âme—proved to be well worth the wait.  In her more recent works, Brown has added physical, daring partnering to her vocabulary (for example L’Amour Au Theatre [2009] and Present Tense [2003]). Set to Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Pygmalion, Brown’s latest work has effortlessly combined partnering with the soft, wispy quality her work is known for.  A trio of dancers explores transitions into and out of horizontal and vertical lifts.  Six dancers partner in perfect unison using challenging counterbalancing and weight-sharing.  While the movement is still airy and internal, each section of this work is controlled and placed, down to the smallest detail.  Although quite different from Brown’s earlier works in terms of style and use of music, Les Yeux et l’âmeis still, undeniably, Trisha Brown.  
Trisha Brown Dance Company can be seen at Meany Hall on Friday, April 1 and Saturday, April 2, 2011. Tickets are available at the door or through the UW World Series site,
For videos, news, and company information:
For a video of Trisha Brown performing Watermotor:
For insight into the making of Watermotor:
Author’s Note: It is difficult to critique works that hold such historical significance.  Watermotor was a work I viewed in college after studying Brown’s Accumulation with Talking.  Whether or not the piece itself spoke to me back then, I can’t say.  However, I do remember the reverence I held for the influence Brown’s innovation had on modern dance.  That nostalgia made a true review of Brown’s earlier works quite a challenge.