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Trisha Brown Steps Aside At Dance Company….

April 10, 2013
Choreographer Trisha Brown no longer makes new dances. Photo: Lourdes Delgado

Choreographer Trisha Brown no longer makes new dances. Photo: Lourdes Delgado

Allan Ulrich

Bidding farewell to a trailblazer is never easy. It is doubtful whether the Trisha Brown Dance Company will visit the Bay Area after Friday evening’s Cal Performances program in Berkeley. Even if it does return, the relationship between choreographer, dancers and audiences will have altered forever. So now is the time to celebrate a prime mover in the contemporary performing arts.

In recent years, Brown, 76, has reportedly had a series of small strokes, an affliction that has rendered her incapable of making new dances. She has accepted a different title founding artistic director and choreographer, and has appointed former company dancers and longtime collaborators Diane Madden and Carolyn Lucas as associate artistic directors.

In contrast to choreographer Merce Cunningham, who decreed that his company would dissolve after his death, Madden and Lucas, with Brown’s approval, will steer their troupe down a different path. They have launched the current three-year “Proscenium Works 1979-2011” tour, which, in Berkeley, will feature Brown’s final two pieces, as well as one of the choreographer’s classics from the 1980s. And that, apparently, will be it for conventional performances.

However, the organization, according to a recent press release, will eventually license its theatrical works to other troupes. But Madden and Lucas will concentrate on the performance and re-creation of Brown’s site-specific dances and those intended for staging in museums and gallery spaces. Brown, fortunately, has been meticulous in building an archive of her creative process on video and in print. Some of this material will find its way into an interactive online media library.

The goal is creative dialogue.

Dialogue is an activity that Brown promoted throughout her career. A 1958 Mills College graduate, she relocated to New York and fell under the spell of the postmodern aesthetic that flourished at the Judson Dance Theater. Many of her early dances, the rooftop and wall-climbing pieces, earned Brown considerable notoriety, but they made their artistic point; any environment could serve as an arena for dance. And pedestrian gestures, through manipulation and juxtaposition, could emerge as an elevated mode of discourse. She founded her own company in 1970, and several of today’s dancers and choreographers have spent some time in her troupe.

What commends Brown most of all is her meticulous craft, the manner in which she builds phrases on the human body, augments and recombines them, fashioning from limbs and torso kinetic mosaics of astonishing clarity and intricacy; it’s too easy to run to summon images of master jewelers adding a precious stone to a gold setting.

Company members of Trisha Brown Dance Company perform Newark Photo: Jack Mitchell

Company members of Trisha Brown Dance Company perform Newark Photo: Jack Mitchell

There has been something exquisite about so many of her solos, not least because she leavened them with an infectious wit.

Fortunately for Brown’s fans, her early works (1966-79) have been collected on a two-DVD set on Artpix. This is an inspiring collection and worth it for the film performance of the astonishing “Accumulation With Talking Plus Watermotor” solo, directed by no less than Academy Award winner Jonathan Demme (

I have always admired Brown for the manner in which she has opened herself to new experiences. She moved from the early experimental essays to the collaborations with illustrious, avant-garde colleagues (Robert RauschenbergLaurie AndersonAlvin Curran) to directing opera; “Les Yeux et l’âme” on the Berkeley bill derives from Brown’s staging of Rameau’s “Pygmalion.” This is the same choreographer who once created a stage spectacle from Schubert’s “Winterreise” song cycle for baritone Simon Keenlyside.

Brown has long been a Bay Area favorite, not least because of the Mills connection, and she has loved us back.

During a Zellerbach performance in late 1989, an aftershock from the Loma Prieta earthquake rattled the hall and sent the audience bolting. Brown and company, though shaken, went right on dancing. Consider it a metaphor for an amazing career.

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