Our first February event was seeing four dances from Trisha Brown’s Dance Company. The event was held at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) Howard Gilman Opera House so we got to ride the subway out of Manhattan and into another borough. Yippee! The New York Times wrote an amazing article on the performance and reading it brought back great memories of Friday night.
Trisha Brown is another influential choreographer of modern dance. This performance included two New York premier dances and two that had been done before (1966 & 1987). Brown is similar to Rainer in terms of rebelling against ballet. She is also similar to Rainer because she pushes the boundaries of what dance is. It was typical of Brown to create dances where dancers walked up the sides of buildings or twirled down a pillar on ropes. Any dancer of Brown’s should not have had any ballet instruction and her dancers point their feet but keep their toes loose. I expected that to look weird on stage but oddly found it beautiful.
The first dance was “Les Yeux et l’âme. This was a New York premier. The two couples who started off on stage had slow movements and mirrored each other as if a large piece of glass had been placed between the two sets of dancers. Throughout all four dances, their movements seem to rely on gravity, momentum, and each other. An arm would be out to a dancer’s side, bent at a ninety-degree angle, and then it was start to swing forward, slowly at first and then as gravity caught ahold of it, it would swing down faster. It was graceful and helped to change the pace of the dance. My favorite and most memorable part of this dance was when one of the girls was lifted into the air by two men and floated on top of the backs of the other dancers who had crouched down into a ball.
The second dance was called “Homemade” (1966) and was the shortest dance in the performance (I also learned it was one of Brown’s first composed dances). I’ve included the link to the YouTube video of the premier of the dance back in 1966. It was composed of a single dancer on stage, an old camera strapped to her back. The camera was running and displayed a video of the girl on stage. For the first couple of minutes, I believed that it was a live feed and was trying to figure out where the other camera was. Then, it dawned on me it was prerecorded (they’re tricky!). I believe the dancer was acting out a scene of some sort but was unable to piece together exactly what she was doing. It also didn’t appear that she lined up with what the camera was displaying on the wall. At first, the girl was behind the video, which was neat to see the move happen on the wall and then the girl repeated the move. About halfway through or so, the girl was ahead of the camera. I am not sure if that was the goal of the video but nevertheless, the camera footage added an interesting element to the dance. It obviously took a lot of practice to mimic the dance so precisely that it appeared the same both live and on film. The audience was not always able to see the film because when the girl turned sideways or showed her back to the audience, the film was lost to the high ceiling of the opera house or to the sides of the stage we could not see from our seats. This dance also was not set to music and the only sound the audience could hear were the sounds of the dancer’s footsteps and the hum of the film.
My favorite dance was the third one called “Newark (Niweweorce)” (1987). It began with two men on stage, dressed in all gray one pieces. They moved in unison and were eventually joined by the other dancers. The sounds for this dance were a variety of loud buzzing tones. At first, this was grating but our ears eventually adapted to it. Then all of a sudden, the buzzing would stop and silence would take over the opera house. Also throughout the dance different colors screens would drop down, either hiding the dancers or pushing them forward. They once again relied on gravity and the idea of momentum to push them from one move to another. When they were partnered up, they needed the other dancer to keep moving. Their dancing reminded me of the five metal balls on the strings; you pull one ball back and swing it into the other four and the momentum pushes the ball on the other side to pop out and then swings back to hit the group and so on.
This dance was gender-neutral in the moves which I not only thought was different but refreshing. There were sometimes guy-guy or girl-girl matchups and they still did all the moves gracefully and without any difficulties, even if a girl performed a move typically associated with being a “male move.” The most beautiful move of the piece was when one of the taller men jumped into the arms of one of the women and she tossed him forward. He rolled and stood up. My breath caught when that happened. The other incredibly difficult move was when the girl sat on the ground, her knees to her chest and the male put on leg over her shoulder. Eventually the girl pushed forward into a handstand, her feet on the guy’s shoulders. Then the guy bent his knees and the girl put her hands on his thigh. It was a wall sit with weight on your knees and shoulders…incredible.
The final dance was also a New York premier called “I’m going to toss my arms – if you catch them they’re yours.” The curtain rose and the dancers were off to our right hand side of the stage. All the curtains had been removed so the audience could see the wings and all the lighting. The dancers were standing behind large, industrial sized fans, all blowing. They were wearing white shirts and pants and you could tell something was beneath them. The same movements that I had become accustomed to over the past three dances returned; the dancers moving in sync, breaking out in solos, and moving fast and then slow and then fast again. I’m not exactly sure how their outfits were fastened but throughout the dance the white tops and bottoms disappeared to show a single colored swimsuit. Often, the fan would blow away the final sleeve and then move the fabric across the stage to other collected pieces of the white outfits. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason why the top outfit came off.
I particularly liked the large fan reflections present throughout the dance. There was also a piano player in the back left hand corner of the stage who started playing and added a new element to the dance.
I definitely saw similarities between Brown and Rainer. As The New York Times article discussed, there was something very pedestrian about these dances, just like the pedestrian style of Rainer’s. They both are rebelling and pushing their dancers, either by not wearing shoes to having them dress in street clothes. At the same time, Brown and Rainer are very different. Whereas Rainer incorporated herself into the dance, Brown was absent. Rainer had her dancers speak and Brown kept her dancers silent. While Rainer took a while to grow on me, I was captured by Brown after the first dance.