Life and Death Matter


I leave the Trisha Brown Dance Company’s 35th anniversary season feeling lighter, brighter—drunk with a beauty both luscious and brainy. From Brown’s early days as a vanguard hellion her pieces have always been fundamentally serene, however windblown and impulsive her style and however obstreperous and/or witty her structures.

Her most recent works, the new how long does the subject linger on the edge of the volume . . . , Geometry of Quiet (2002), and Present Tense (2003), all convey that serenity directly. Brown is more willing to arrest the gentle maelstroms of movement that became her signature in the late ’70s, to let our eyes grasp positions and follow gestures as they slip around the bodies of her superb dancers.

Simplicity within complexity is vital to how long, because the choreography collaborates with other media. Sensors attached to four of the seven dancers’ torsos, heads, and arms send space-time signals to overhead infrared cameras, which convey them to computers, thereby triggering the sounds in Curtis Bahn’s score and the visual designs created and engineered by Marc Downie, Shelley Eshkar, and Paul Kaiser. The delicate or jangling aural network we intermittently hear and the dancing artwork projected on a downstage scrim are simultaneous translations of the choreography without exact linguistic equivalents. You can tell that the instant Katrina Thompson steps from the wings and a soft-edged, white triangular outline materializes above her, followed by a streaking red diagonal. Once, a slim arc travels when Stacy Matthew Spence leaps, but such obvious correspondences are rare. The rich, alert dancing simply occurs in a magical, shifting environment of red, white, and gray fanning lines, jet trails, sprays of droplets, trapezoidal frames, complicated spirals—all hanging and changing shape like fireworks. What looks vaguely like a tall figure stalks past Spence and Thompson. Dancing with Neal Beasley, Sandra Grinberg falls into a cobweb; Spence rushes in, thrusts an arm between the pair, and sound and pattern vanishes.

However subliminally perceived, the deep connections between movement, sound, and terrain create the image of a united world—unimaginably gorgeous. In the same way, the two huge white silk triangles attached to the wings in the ravishing Geometry of Quiet are a crucial part of the choreography; tended by Beasley and Thompson, they conceal and reveal, briefly entangle Todd Lawrence Stone, alter the landscape, and slide away like retreating waves.

In Present Tense, Elizabeth Murray’s bold backdrop—an angular red shape, a green one, a curly blue one—stays still; the only mobile designs are made by the dancers and Jennifer Tipton’s sunny lighting. Set to John Cage music for prepared piano, this work (marvelously played by Pedja Muzijevic), like some of Brown’s early ones, is a series of cooperative tasks. After a long, silky, incrementally collapsing solo (beautifully executed by Beasley), performers walk onstage, see what’s needed, and pitch in. And omigod, the jobs Brown has devised! Think you’ve seen every possible lift? Think again. It’s not just Brandi L. Norton walking with difficulty along her standing colleagues’ thighs, it’s group lifts as cat’s cradles, as whirligigs, as rabbits being pulled out of hats. Experiencing humans working together at maximum potential is as close to the celestial as I expect to get.

A woman sits in a chair and counts quietly up to 100,000, accenting each number by rubbing her right hand down her thigh. If the hand were wood and the leg flint, she’d start a fire. Before long, I want to scream, “Stop!” That’s the point. Juliette Mapp’s One (an anti-war dance) is a minimalist spectacle that drills the war’s rising death toll into our skulls.

When the woman has almost reached 200, others detach themselves from hordes crowded in open doorways, unfold chairs, sit, and join in:”500, 501 . . . “; “1,000, 1,001 . . . “; etc. Eventually, over 40 sit facing opposing diagonals, and the single, barely audible voice becomes a murmurous female chorus. Contrapuntal movements develop: staring warily, stuffing a hand in one’s mouth, running with outspread arms, falling. The picture changes shape and volume, but the counting never stops. Some performers ask coached audience members of both sexes to replace them and, sitting among us, continue the tallies.

Near the end, Mapp enters and travels through the crowd—reacting to the others, echoing their gestures. I understand her need to say more, but her concerned presence adds a layer of sentiment, a slight preachiness, to the relentless escalation of statistics.

In Osmani Tellez’s Out, interesting people do interesting things with no discernible logic or goal. When Carol Mullins’s lights change, I wrack my brain to see what occasions it. At the outset Tellez, Rebecca Serrell, and Astrud Angarita stand expressionless at the back of the space while Sigal Bergman plays abstruse games with her joints—twisting her head, a shoulder, a knee around simultaneously.

They run and fall, colliding frequently, while David Watson’s score escalates into aural hell. Serrell speaks barely intelligible words. Most gripping is a solo by Tellez, looking increasingly uncomfortable and apologetic while he kicks one leg repeatedly out to the side as if stuck in a dead-end job, eventually turning into a wild man. Suddenly we see someone doing something with purpose and responsiveness.

Most Popular