Performing Arts: Dance
February 1, 2016
There was a buzz at the Howard Gilman Opera House on the opening night of Trisha Brown Dance Company’s last appearance at BAM (a venue where they began performing in 1976), where three of her most beloved works were beautifully danced and rapturously received. There is something bittersweet about the planned endings to certain dance eras – the Cunningham Park Avenue Armory farewell comes to mind – but also excitement, for a new phase of the work is about to unfold.

Associate artistic directors Carolyn Lucas and Diane Madden will now stage her early works in site-specific venues rather than onstage (Ms. Brown, 79, is retired now and living in Texas). The work will also continue to be performed onstage by other dance companies, so we can rest easy that this is a transition, and not a demise.

The classic Set and Reset (1983) with music by Laurie Anderson and sets and costumes by Robert Rauschenberg opened the program. An absorbing work based on set improvisations and dancer responses to instructions such as “dance on instinct,” dancers flow through movement where the impetus often comes from the limbs – the arm leads, the body follows – giving us a sense of continual cascading within tightly structured, geometric patterns. This kind of movement, seemingly relaxed or pedestrian, in fact requires great skill as it travels within the body from one point to another as well as in space, and was a sight to behold on Brown’s own lanky, fluid body. Her dancers – some with similar long arms and torsos, recalled her silky movement quality beautifully, but also made it their own.

Present Tense (2003), the newest work on the program to John Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes and designs by Elizabeth Murray (re-imagined by Elizabeth Cannon, with lighting by Jennifer Tipton), is a brightly colored, moving sculptural mass, where the dancers continually lift each other and inhabit every level of space, from the floor to high over each other’s heads. A highly coordinated group effort with partnering that ignores gender stereotyping, we get lost in watching how the dancers deftly change their configuration and relationships while constantly moving. Present Tense makes the colorful, cartoon-like quality and geometry of the still backdrop come to life, a seamless dance without conflict or tension.

The program closed with Newark (Niweweorce) (1987), to original sound orchestration by Peter Zummo with Donald Judd, who is also credited with “visual presentation” (Ken Tabachnick is credited for lighting). The most spare of the three works, Newark is a meditation on line, balance, and shape in movement, reminiscent of Cunningham’s work. An extended duet, stunningly danced by two men, anchored the work and embodied virtuosity within its minimialist aesthetic. It was a serious, fitting closer for a night of iconic postmodern dance.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Nicole Duffy Robertson

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