The Trisha Brown Farewell At Zellerbach, March 19

21 Mar

This single valedictory performance of the Trisha Brown Company at Zellerbach was extremely well attended, resulting in working reviewers/critics taking inside seats. I’d like to think part of the interest stems not only from Brown’s achievements, but also because she spent several periods on Anna Halprin’s Dance Deck in the coastal slopes of Marin County, one of several young women’s sojourns culminating in the Judson movement commonly called Post-Modern Dancer.

Hers is a small company; nine dancers, two apprentices; its size seems to relate to Brown’s style of extravagant simplicity of movement.  She employs the arms with an austere clarity reminding me of Arabic calligraphy where a line can swoop elegantly or dive incisively, the spareness emphasized by examples of simple costuming.  In two of the Brown pieces, white was the primary color, the third in grey unitards.

Two pieces from 2011 commenced and ended the program; sandwiched in between was the 1987 piece titled Network, distinguished by loud, singular sound with intervals of silence and changes in backdrop colors from neutral to a marigold yellow at one point and in another a deep brick red.  Against this the men balanced on demi-pointe in precarious balances, the arms outstretched or raised in positions, remaining unchanged for appreciable moments; I felt they seemed to be trying to imitate the strokes and sequences in Chinese calligraphy, where angles are vigorous and down ward strokes emphatic in the semi-clerical style.  In lifting the women or seeing them apart from partnering no concession was given  to harmonious line in the balletic sense, but line and silhouette  existed generously.

Les Yeux e l’ame , the Eyes and the Soul, was lit by Jennifer Tipton. Elizabeth Cannon’s costumes evoked the tunic and floor length skirts seen on Greek classical statues, minus the gathers.  Set to Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Pygmalion, the dancing sections emphasized the wrists with deliberately gracious arms executed in broad patterns away from the torso, the spatial distance
puzzling until one remembers that women wore panniers and men swords, both keeping couples at a genuine distance from one another. The qualities were gentle on the eyes, almost whimsical, leading one to muse out the relation to more tense-faced, cupped handed renditions of “the modern dance.”

Brown’s finale, also a 2011 work stripped the stage bare with several over-sized active air conditioners ranged down stage left, large enough so that all but the taller dancers could move between two and be almost obliterated from view.  Under the title “I’m going to toss my arms – if you catch them they’re yours,” the dancers emerged between the air conditioners in over-sized white tunics and pajama-like trousers, their arms moving in less graceful arcs, if still  akin to the opening piece.  The bending torsos and raised arms seemed to serve as the second parenthesis which commenced initially to the patterns executed to Rameau.  After the first dancer let his tunic drop to the floor, exposing his tidy torso, I said to myself “How long will it take for the other dancers to shed their white camouflage?”  Answer – throughout the entire piece, of course, dropping at seemingly random intervals, plop on the floor, first the tunics, then the pajamas, with the women emerging in  bright hued swim suit designs, red, royal blue, forest green and the men in red trunks. Again, Brown displayed an elegant sense of leisure, in this work, divesting.

I wonder when audiences will enjoy again such thoughtful, largely serene choreography under the label of modern dance.

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