Meet the Composer

Trisha Brown Dialogues With Music

Developing—exploding—the juxtaposition of "lusciousness" and disruptiveness, Brown comes up with some witty inventions. In "Bounding Lines," Fisher, Norton, Stone, Thompson, Yager, and Stacy Matthew Spence break out of a jostling throng to line up and perform a phrase in canon, one count apart; this, she explains, "puts the head of the eel in counterpoint to the tail of the eel. Which I just love!" Later, gathered into a squad, the dancers perform as accurately as possible a set phrase for feet alone, while attempting to copy Thompson's improvised arm patterns. (Another point of comparison between Douglas's world and Brown's: jazz musicians play around with a tune; Brown's intrepid dancers—including also Mariah Mahoney, Ming Lung Yang, and Seth Parker—are accustomed in rehearsal to retrograde a theme, vary it, or mix it with another on request.)

In two and a half cacophonous minutes of the "Scherzo," the musicians play their instruments "wrong," or play right on the wrong part of the instrument. Brown later creates her own gloss on "wrongness" by having dancers occasionally fall down during a demanding passage of the final "Aria II." The first time it happens, you're sure it's an accident, and even when you figure out it's not, you're still pleasurably jolted whenever it happens.

Talking with Brown confirms my impression that her profound inventiveness with movement and form can cut to the heart of any music, any story. Back in the '70s, she and a few others performed a quiet body-twister: eyes closed, they engaged their right and left arms at different points in the same simple repeating pattern. The result was bodies subtly out of sync with themselves yet in perfect control. During the Canto/Pianto aria in which the anguished messenger delivers the news of Eurydice's death, Fisher stands planted center stage, one part of her body engaged in gestures that bespeak tragedy, while another part executes highly accented abstract material that Brown calls "neural fissures": "I was imagining the grief of a person that we see when they fall down on some floor and wail, and at the same time the chaos that I imagine is in the body." Here two completely separate systems merge in one dancer to create not just an interesting pattern but a deeply disturbing enigma. Brown is one of the few artists who can enter into a compact with tradition and remain radical.

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