Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Trisha Brown Dance Company Moves Forward by Looking Back

Opal Loop. Photo: Ian Douglas
It was just coincidence that the companies of Trisha Brown and Stephen Petronio, who began his professional career as a dancer for her, had coincidental runs at, respectively, New York Live Arts and the Joyce, just a half a block apart. But still, it was strange to walk by the Joyce, as it was filling up for the show, en route to Brown's performance, at the smaller venue. It was just another reminder of the generational shift in modern dance that has been in process for years now.

The program by Trisha Brown Dance Company was a well-chosen slate of three older works: Opal Loop/Cloud Installation #72503 (1980); Solo Olos (1976); and Son of Gone Fishin' (1981), plus Rogues, a newer duet from 2011. Each dance showed a facet of Brown's impressive canon: structured improvisation, accumulation, retrograde. The apparent ease and bonelessness of Brown's style usually cloaks the rigorous intellectual underpinnings, but Solo Olos pulls back that curtain A square dance-style caller commands the six other dancers to perform certain phrases, in reverse, and sometimes in double-reverse. It's apparent how complete their mental and physical dedication must be. 

Son of Gone Fishin'. Photo: Ian Douglas
It was a satisfying show, for sure, and it was the first in New York since Brown stopped choreographing, which was marked by the troupe's run at BAM last year and Brown's final work, if I toss my arms.... Of course Brown isn't the first choreographer to depart, but despite her irreplaceable output, she doesn't have a huge mythology built around her, like Merce, Pina, or Martha. She has always seemed like one of us, only smarter and cooler and way more talented.

As Brown and many other choreographers have demonstrated, retrograde is a highly useful creative method, but you need forward progress in order to reverse it. It may only be a matter of time before the currently assembled dancers and staff dissipate by necessity, despite fund-raising achieved and pedagogical goals set, in addition to an isolated performance project here and there. As the pioneer modern dance generation ages, there is an ominous premonition of loss, that a repertory will never be the same as under a choreographer's hand. That it will be watered down by added contemporary repertory (Graham) or simply vanish (Cunningham).

Perhaps some of Brown's repertory will surface in the newly formed vehicle of Paul Taylor's American Modern Dance. (Since that announcement, a lot of similar suggestions are going to be aired by a lot of voices.) Brown's work qualifies when measured by all three definors within the title, and is as worthy as any. TBDC's relatively small infrastructure is there to support a huge artistic achievement, so some timely external support might be just thing.

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