Friday, December 15, 2017

Trisha Brown—Seeing the Old Anew

Groove and Countermove. Photo: Stephanie Berger
A side effect of the sad loss of Trisha Brown is that in recent presentations, her mid- to late-career work has been overlooked in favor of remounting her best-known dances. Audiences may never get enough of Set and Reset or Opal Loop, but at the Joyce this week, it was bracing to see some dances that were new to me. It was a rediscovery of sorts of Brown's technically rigorous style. While all of her choreography has an underlying rigor, the outward expression of that rigor is often suppressed in favor of a organic silkiness. Less so in the three dances presented at the Joyce. 

L'Amour au Théâtre (2009) is among a group of Brown's work set to early music—in this case, a recording of Hippolyte et Aricie performed by Les Arts Florissants. The regular rhythmic structure of the music perhaps inspired Brown to experiment with structures built with bodies. Dancers counterbalance each other, bracing one anothers' arms, then place an elevated foot on her partner's shoulder. A man lifts a woman in a circle, her legs and feet flexed as if ready to cycle; horse and rider motifs followed, and in a sole literal gesture, a woman mimes a hunter firing an arrow. The pace is quick, the action athletic. The backdrop was painted by Brown—charcoal arcs and circles inscribed on white by the span of her limbs.

In stark contrast musically is the flute score by Salvatore Sciarrino for Geometry of Quiet (2002), played on stage. Its dynamic and phrasing are shaped literally by the breaths of flutist Sato Moughalian, lending a humanism and intimacy. The movement is no less challenging than L'Amour. Two women penché deeply, balancing for long counts. Pairs interleave legs and squat, resting on their partner's knee; they totter off locked in that position. The pace is deliberate and slow; the action continues as the curtain lowers. 

The final dance, Groove and Countermove (2000), is leavened by Terry Winters' witty paintings and Dave Douglas' score, featuring sax and guitar. Brown seemed inspired by the jazz music to create jaunty, loose-hipped moves, injecting moments of absurd humor, as when a woman falls into a split and stares at us to satirically flaunt her skills. Perhaps most notable was the return of Leah Morrison, a longtime TBDC dancer and the only company member who danced with the group while Brown was alive. While all of the new company members are impressive, Morrison has an unforced ease and liquid quality, whereas some of the others seem to be exhibiting their technique more. The multi-hued costumes were reminiscent of Merce Cunningham's Second Hand; when lined up in a certain order, both casts create the colors of the rainbow.

While we are immensely grateful and relieved that the company continues to perform, it is different. To state the obvious, we all miss Trisha, but are glad for the gifts she gave us.

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