Wednesday night’s performance by the Trisha Brown Dance Company was momentous for a number of reasons: first, this performance series includes the very last two premières of Ms Brown’s choreography, as she is retiring from the company due to health reasons. Second, it was my first time seeing this famous modern dance company live, and not via a videotaped performance in a college dance history class. It seems that Ms Brown has mellowed in her later years as a choreographer. I suppose that I was expecting to see the flash and bang and audacity of her earliest works present in her two new premières, but I instead was treated to something more classically modern: lovely lines and a careful meld of music and movement. I wasn’t disappointed, by any means. But I was left wondering if the expectancy I felt before the show began (and it is the same expectancy I feel before every dance show that I review: that what I am about to see may be the performance that reaffirms, in an unavoidable way, why I love this art form so much) was unfair.
In addition to her two new premières, Les Yeux et l’ame and I’m going to toss my arms—if you catch them they’re yours, Ms Brown restaged two of her older works. Homemade, this time performed by Vicky Shick, felt dated and even a little cheesy. I understand that there is a value in restaging seminal works, but this is only true if the restaging brings to light some new element of the piece previously unexplored or else is able to be timely in its present state, no matter the decade. Homemade, with its cumbersome camera backpack, didn’t have enough in either the innovation of the movement or the once-groundbreaking solo-versus-filmed-solo dichotomy to hold my interest.
Newark, on the other hand, was the unequivocal highlight of the evening. How nice to see movement, partnering, set design, and sound that feels fresh and daring even in today’s shock-value-heavy modern dance. Stuart Shugg and Nicholas Strafaccia were two forces of both brute strength and enviably liquid movement to be reckoned with. The feel of Newark is odd in that it promotes a remote, serious atmosphere while still managing to be an evening in itself. Its nuances, even amidst droning noises and color-blocked set pieces, combine with jaw-dropping partnering (I more than once audibly exclaimed at a particular feat of strength) to create a well-rounded piece.
I know that Ms Brown has a particular talent for finding a loveliness in pedestrian movement of the arms and legs, but I must admit that I no longer find this enough to sustain my interest. In the final piece of the evening, the new Toss, I found myself admiring the ease with which the dancers moved but tired of the windmill arms and appendage-heavy dancing. (The exception to this is the all-male dancing that occurred near the end of the piece: the four men somehow managed to intersect and explode without overwhelming me. I credit this to Ms Brown’s masterful manipulation of spatial orientation and groupings.) And the audience certainly disagreed with me. There were a number of sustained curtain calls and thunderous applause, all of which led me to believe that I had missed something essential – something truly groundbreaking.
Instead, I found myself concentrating on tedious details, such as how each of the dancers managed to escape their white, floaty clothing without me noticing, or how difficult it must be to dance around and between mechanical fans. Or how out of breath the dancers must be each time they had to descend the stage-left stairs and run around behind the stage in order to enter from stage right. These are details that I do not want to consume my mind when I am watching dance, and I am still waiting, I suppose, for the piece that manages to do away with such trivialities.