Trisha Brown’s Chaos Theory


If, as Thelonious Monk famously posited, writing about music is like dancing about architecture, what is dancing about jazz? Many musicians think there would be no jazz without dance. Duke Ellington, for one, said, “I think that people who don’t dance, or never did dance, don’t really understand the music.” By that measure, choreographer Trisha Brown is an agile interpreter of Dave Douglas’s music, matching his stylistic hybrids with every twist and turn, although Brown first had to make a leap. From May 2 through 14 at the Joyce, two of her new dances, Five Part Weather Invention and Rapture to Leon James, will feature the artists side by side.

“When I first heard Dave Douglas’s scherzo, I didn’t want to get involved with all that chaos,” admits Brown. It’s a long way from working with Bach and Verdi—and even longer from the silence-based work of Brown’s earlier oeuvre—to choreographing that chaos. Brown wouldn’t find freedom without creating a sense of order. Even though jazz is a music based in spontaneity and improvisation, according to Brown “there needs to be a structure there to determine space for the dancers.” Without that net, dancers face not only a physical danger, but an aesthetic one. “Music goes into the air and everyone can hear it, whereas in dance, you can’t see what someone’s doing upstage unless you turn your back on the audience, and that’s not a propitious side to show.” Ultimately, though, attuning herself to improvisation provided an epiphany. “I literally became a part of the music in terms of the body as an instrument. It was the best dancing I’ve ever done.”