At New York Live Arts this week, the Trisha Brown Dance Company – no longer helmed by Brown herself, now that she’s in poor health, but by two former dancers of hers – presented three older works and one, Rogues, created in 2011. Though it is clear that Ms Brown is a choreographer with a particular gift for assembling intricate dances (I assume her dancers are equal parts adept technicians and formidable mathematicians), I find myself respecting her work more than I enjoy it.

Rogues © Stuart Shugg
Rogues
© Stuart Shugg

Rogues, a duet for two men, came first on the program and was danced by TBDC stalwart Neal Beasley on Wednesday night, rather than Stuart Shugg, as the program stated. The two men performed essentially the same weighted, rippling, port-de-bras led movement, though one would invariable fall behind, get ahead of or carefully canon the other. It is an even-keel piece, in which Mr Beasley and the likable Nicholas Strafaccia projected a calm and unhesitating command of the quickly-paced movement. You get the sense you could rattle them both awake from a deep sleep and command them to perform this piece on the spot, and they would comply with the same surety.

Opal Loop © Julieta Cervantes
Opal Loop
© Julieta Cervantes

Ms Brown’s Opal Loop/Cloud Installation #72503 was originally, in 1980, a collaboration with Japanese fog artist Fujiko Nakaya. Though the fog is a star player here, so is the requisite Trisha Brown aesthetic: bobble head, with arms always leading the rest of the body to follow, sequentially. It is a movement style that can mystify and excite you, even as it seduces you to an often trance-like state. Most unfortunately, there seems to be a great divide between those company members (and guest dancers) who have mastered this aesthetic and those who have not. Tamara Riewe and Elena Demyaneko have it solidly; Samuel Wentz does not. It must be a careful line to toe, taking care that what can look like easygoing, liquid-y movement does not appear simply marked or debilitatingly exhausting.

Opal Loop © Babette Mangolte
Opal Loop
© Babette Mangolte

For Solos Olos (1976), the dancers are clad identically in all white, and one dancer soon leaves the group to take a seat in the audience and call out which phrases – and which versions of which phrases – separate dancers should begin and end. Mr Beasley handled this role, as he seems to handle all roles within the repertoire, with beautiful aplomb and a careful command of sizeable material. It is here that the company members begin to resemble mathematicians: As Mr Beasley commands each of them to reverse and “branch” and “spill” a phrase, you begin to see a pattern emerge, one that makes you head spin at its intricacy and nuance. “Good god,” I began to think. “What minds.”

But these smaller and shorter pieces are all really just exercises leading up to the evening’s final work, Son of Gone Fishin’. Ms Brown has referred to this work, created in 1981, as her most complex, and she isn’t exaggerating. Over some 20 minutes, the dancers – clad fearfully and wonderfully in shades of gold by costume designer Judith Shea – take moments of stillness only three times. Otherwise, they are careening through the space, slicing arms and nearly missing the head of whoever is next to them by what you first imagine to be sheer luck but later realize is a tightly choreographed organization of phrasework. The dancers have that magnificent and all-too-rare quality of being able to make choreography seem like playful improvisation, and all are beautiful movers. Tara Lorenzen, in particular, is stunning. She has the best leg line I’ve ever seen – any extension is the longest and straightest and cleanest.

Son of Gone Fishin' © Lois Greenfield
Son of Gone Fishin'
© Lois Greenfield

And while I applaud the company’s programming – three shorter pieces to keep us all alert and invested, followed by the big bang – there was nothing here to truly rouse me from my seat. I can admire Ms Brown’s dancers and her own choreographic mind freely, but the excitement that must’ve pervaded her older work at its inception is no longer there.