Components Inseparable: Beautiful Trisha Brown Dance Program at ADF

I go to so much performance because it feeds the ravening aesthetic beast in me that is rarely satiated. Yet occasionally there’s a night at the theater like an orchestrated feast, refined and sustaining just to the point of repletion. Any more, in the words of Fred Chappell, would be a superfluity. The American Dance Festival‘s presentation of the Trisha Brown Dance Company program was that feast on July 19. For this viewer, it was the most fulfilling concert of this ADF season so far. The program repeats tonight only at the Durham Performing Arts Center.

The Trisha Brown Dance Company. Photo: Laurent Philippe.

The Trisha Brown Dance Company. Photo: Laurent Philippe.

The three-dance program includes a marvelous recent work, full of space and moving air, but the other two pieces are important works from 1983 and 1994. You could go to Set and Reset (1983) for the Laurie Anderson music alone, but then you’d miss the Robert Rauschenberg visuals and the extraordinary dancing. Perhaps more than any other choreographer of her period, Trisha Brown excels at making dances that appear to actually include randomness–they are so without artistic pretense that when something happens like two dancers bumping, you ask, was that an accident? To give the appearance of random accident within a loosely patterned design is very high art. Brown’s movement style combines clean geometries made with angular body shapes and extensions, with delicious fluidity, enhanced here by Rauschenberg’s sheer loose costumes that float and ripple. The amazing movement looks free, unplanned almost, as one dancer performs it; when other dancers join in, patterns develop and dissolve as Anderson’s rich music swells and swirls.

If You Couldn’t See Me, a solo from 1994, is danced here by Leah Morrison (who also stands out in both ensemble dances). There’s just the stage with plain black curtains, the simple lighting, the spare music, and the one dancer in a pale leotard with long panels front and back. We never see her face, but we see her back, her ankles, glimpse the bottoms of her feet. We see the long legs turned to the side, divided by the rippling columns of fabric; we see lovely shapes described by the arms. The motion is fluid, but because there can be no turns, the dancer’s progress back and forth, up and down, the stage has a snakelike quality. It is pure dance, mysterious to the mind, but knowable by the soul.

I’m Going to Toss My Arms–If You Catch Them They’re Yours (2011), set to the whirr of the large onstage fans and music by Alvin Curran (Toss and Find), has much in common with Set and Reset, but is nearly 30 years more refined. You see this especially in the swelling, breathing quality of the expansion/dispersion/reassembling of the mass of dancers, and in the variations of each well-explored theme. The wonderful costumes by Kaye Voyce are very like the dance. At first they appear bland and the same. But as soon as the eight dancers begin to move, the clothes reveal their differences. The fans are blowing, the clothes are responding…and when they are discarded to the floor, the fan-blown air scoots them along. There is something about all this moving air, and the liquid fluidity of the dancing while the internally moving fans stand stalwart in the golden light, that renders the viewer ecstatic, even the next day.

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