Trisha Brown Goes on a Forest Foray, Vicky Shick Feels Not Entirely Herself

The veteran choreographers offer old and new pieces

Foray/Forêt. . .the title couldn’t be more apt. Trisha Brown grew up roaming the forest in the Pacific Northwest; she worked on the 1990 piece with her company during a foray into France. Seeing it at Dance Theater Workshop as part of the two-year celebration of her group’s 40th anniversary, I’m struck all over again by Brown’s vision. Like all great artists, she sees the world with more intensity and more particularity than the rest of us.

In this dance, as in a forest, images appear and disappear the way a bird flashes into sight between trees or a gleaming fish slips to the surface of a pool, then twists and flicks back into darkness. Wearing Robert Rauschenberg’s variegated, full-cut golden (or gold-trimmed) costumes, the dancers catch the light they pass through. The changing colors of “sky” behind them (lighting by Spencer Brown with Rauschenberg) subtly alter their radiance.

Brown’s movement has a slippery, springy beauty. Words like hurtle, dive, hover, vault, slide past, and merge ignite into my mind. But that’s not the half of it. One minute, Elena Demyanenko is moving slowly in place, absorbed in small, complex, fluid tasks; the next minute, three colleagues race together from three different directions, briefly snag in midair, rebound off one another, and continue without a pause. Brown keeps the corners of your eyes busy. Several times Tamara Riewe falls out of the wings and is pulled back by half-seen Nicholas Strafaccia. One performer may drop into another’s phrase of movement as if a peaceful current has nudged her there. Another may pick up and echo a gesture that’s just appeared on the other side of the stage. Dai Jian arrives unhurriedly, just in time to catch Laurel Jenkins Tentindo as she tilts further sideways out of a quiet dance she and Demyanenko are exploring in unison.

Samuel Wentz, Tamara Riewe, Laurel Jenkins Tentindo, and Dai Jian in Trisha Brown’s Foray/Forêt.
Yi-Chun Wu
Samuel Wentz, Tamara Riewe, Laurel Jenkins Tentindo, and Dai Jian in Trisha Brown’s Foray/Forêt.
Maggie Thom, Marilyn Maywald, and Jimena Paz in Vicky Shick’s Not Entirely Herself.
Paula Court
Maggie Thom, Marilyn Maywald, and Jimena Paz in Vicky Shick’s Not Entirely Herself.

Details

Trisha Brown Dance Company
Dance Theater Workshop
219 West 19th Street
212-924-0007
March 16 through 26
Vicky Shick: 'Not Entirely Herself'
The Kitchen
March 16 through 19

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A forest has its own sounds—in this case, footsteps, whooshes of breath, the slap of fabric against the air as a dancer whirls—but civilization often intrudes. In the case of Foray/Forêt, it was Brown’s brilliant decision to have a live marching band approach the theater where the performance was occurring, circle it, and move on. At first you think that the distant, barely audible drums might be part of some parade you didn’t know about. But shortly before the Tri-Battery Pops, led by Tom Goodkind, lets a Sousa march loose somewhere just offstage, you’ve delightedly revised your opinion. The dancers continue their intricacies unperturbed, and

Foray/Forêt ends in silence with a solo, originally danced by Brown. Performed with quiet elegance at DTW by Leah Morrison it has a retrospective air, and dancers positioned in every wing keep moving partially into view (maybe just an arm or a foot appears) and vanishing, as if the woman who performed the solo in 1990 had been recalling fragments of past dances.

For M.G.: The Movie (also on the DTW program), which premiered a year later in 1991, presents a different vision of dancing. Dedicated to the memory of Michel Guy, who had first brought Brown’s company to France (and had recently died), it ushered in a period during which Brown focused on simplifying the look of her choreography. To extend the forest analogy: Meet the trees. The eight performers wear brown unitards designed by Brown that are decorated very sparely with symmetrical yellow patches. The newest company member, tall Lee Serle, stands for the entire dance with his back to the audience and, for most of it, Riewe waits slightly behind him, also with her back to us. The dancing makes me aware of straight arms and legs swinging and thrusting—boughs and branches without a lot of foliage.

The entrancing music is played on an onstage piano by its composer, Alvin Curran, with synthesizer manipulations. A sour-sweet waltz theme disintegrates here and there into such sounds as children’s voices, heavy crashes, and objects tumbling around an echoing space. The equally magical lighting, by S. Brown and the choreographer, aims beams that separate like sprayed water at a smoky cloud hovering above one side of the stage. The dance opens forthrightly. Bathed in a coppery glow, Samuel Wentz runs and runs and runs—forward and backward, circling or cutting across the stage, altering his speed, occasionally bounding off the ground. He does this for so long that you can feel some audience members wondering, “Is this all that’s going to happen?”

It’s not, of course. Strafaccia dashes on, pushes Wentz into the air for a second, then rushes away. Gradually and gently, Morrison, Tentindo, Demyanenko, Jian, and Neal Beasley move into a spare ebb and flow of overlapping designs that hint at enigmatic relationships. Eventually Riewe, too, eases into motion, leaving Serle still stationary—there but not there, like the man in whose memory the dance was made.

In 1978, with Watermotor, Brown unloosed the inborn wildness that her earlier plain-jane structures had been reining in. You can see her dancing the solo in Babette Mangolte’s black-and-white film, projected on the DTW lobby wall. Galloping, twisting flinging her limbs into moves and countermoves, she’s a marvel of ribbony obliques; this dance could pass through the eye of a needle. It’s fascinating to see the terrific Beasley perform the piece. He’s a small, muscular man—supple but taut. His Watermotoris less about cool liquid than about molten metal that has to be worked fast before it hardens. There’s no accompaniment but the sound of his breathing. The virtuosic performance lasts about two-and-a-half minutes, and we cheer. Beasley calmly rode Brown’s bronco of a dance and didn’t fall off.

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