Dancemaker Trisha Brown retires her choreographic cap

TrishaBrownDanceCompany_LesYeux_02_Credit_StephanieBerger

Trisha Brown Dance Company performs “Les Yeux et l’âme” at Cal Performances March 15, 2013. Photo: Stephanie Berger

Can a single-artist dance company become an ever-evolving, interactive, mobile museum?

That is the question, and the premise, of the Trisha Brown Dance Company’s revolutionary plan as the iconic, 76-year-old dancemaker retires her choreographic cap and becomes the company’s Founding Artistic Director and Choreographer.

As of February 2011 and after a series of minor strokes, Brown concluded 50-plus-years as a master creator of elegant physical vocabulary unfurled in magnificent metaphors of time, tasks and space.

Naming Diane Madden and Carolyn Lucas (long-time TBDC members since joining as dancers in the 1980’s) as Associate Artistic Directors, the company embarked in January on a three-year international “Proscenium Works, 1979-2011” tour.

TrishaBrownDanceCompany_LesYeux_03_Credit_StephanieBerger

Trisha Brown Dance Company performs “Les Yeux et l’âme” at Cal Performances March 15, 2013. Photo: Stephanie Berger

At the tour’s conclusion — and even now, as plans are laid and funding sought — TBDC’s papers, visual art and sets, film and video archives, costumes, educational programming, and yes, the lovely dances that are its creative centerpiece, will enter a new phase.

Dance historians and critics often divide Brown’s choreographic arc into segments; assigning word pairs like “pedestrian period” or “collaborative coupling” to her decades of innovative fluidity. Like most, Brown’s artistry has both led and followed societal and cultural shifts. So it should come as no surprise that the uncharted terrain ahead was part planned — the company has extensive archives documenting its history — and part spontaneous response to the inevitability of human mortality.

Immortality, if it is possible, will come from the rigor of Brown’s vision as it lives on in site-specific re-mountings of the repertoire, cross-genre engagements with public institutions and a curated, online media library.

A key component will be TBDC alumni, like the two women now charged with carrying a legacy into its future.

“Trisha always shared her process, her thoughts’ gestation, as these dances were made,” Lucas said, in an intermission interview during the company’s one-night Cal Performance appearance at Zellerbach Hall on March 15.

As regisseur, Lucas stages the dances she herself performed; sharing “bits and pieces of recall” that she insists are elemental and vital to retaining the dances’ integrity.

“We’re continuing her work,” Lucas said, as if stating the obvious, rather than an ambitious expectation of preservation.

The evening’s three pieces, Brown’s final two works from 2011 and the classic Newark (Niweweorce), from 1987, gave good indication that, at least for now, the company is in capable hands.

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Trisha Brown Dance Company performs “I am going to toss my arms – if you catch them, they’re yours” at Cal Performances March 15, 2013. Photo: Laurent Philippe

Les Yeux et l’âme (the eyes and the soul) —spawned by a 2010 production of Pygmalion and largely a kinetic response to composer Jean-Philippe Rameau’s 18th century score — was meticulously performed, if less than robust in its architecture. The dancers investigated the miracle of rise and fall for which they are revered: entwining, looping or cascading in front of Brown’s scrawling-writ-large backdrop. Grey tunic tops and pants, lit non-aggressively by Jennifer Tipton, lent a Roman, mythical atmosphere, but the overall impression was of excerpts. It was soothing and admirable, but removed from the bedrock of the larger work, lacked the profundity of the following dances.

Watching Newark was a bit like observing physical homework. There are the dancers’ studious, pensive expressions. And visual artist Donald Judd’s colored panels intermittently imposing boundaries on the danceable space. The movements follow straight lines, curved shapes, sometimes forming multi-bodied constructs held — or not — for specific time periods, like a geometry lesson set to a stopwatch. Even Peter Zummo and Judd’s buzz-silence-buzz sound score is “worked.”

But the dance was also nothing like homework, especially when Jamie Scott, moving like loose-limbed lace, and Nicholas Strafaccia engaged. Unbound, their steps gained organic, shared rebound, as if an inner, coiling mechanism propelled their bodies.

Brown’s genius—mundane movements achieving spectacular effect—was captured in spurts by other dancers too. Fearlessly by Tara Lorenzen; from finger tip to articulate toe by Megan Madorin, and with dangerous dexterity by Stuart Slugg.

The best came last, in a dance with enough heft to bear it’s considerably-long title: I’m going to toss my arms — if you catch them, they’re yours.

Industrial fans dressed the stripped-stage’s profile and caused the dancers to resemble a ghostly choir as Kaye Voyce’s milky white costumes ballooned and billowed. Pivoting their torsos like weather vanes and marrying intimate touch with impersonal tasks, an all-male section explored both gravity and gravitas. A quartet for women was more whiplash, like interrupted breath, or animated ribbons set free to spiral, twist, and unwind.

Whether or not Brown’s company will soar into the next generation or coalesce into a memorial monument or fade is unknown. For now, the best approach is to accept change in the way the company’s founder has practiced her craft: not by measuring time’s passage, but by reveling in it’s volume and mysterious layers.

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  • Dunno

    “retires her choreographic cap” is such a stupid, stupid phrase.