Born in Aberdeen, Washington, Trisha Brown moved to New York in 1961 where she became part of the post-modern movement at the Judson Church Theater. During the 1970s, it was artists like Brown who completely changed the definition of modern dance. I had the honor of being part of that New York post-modern dance community and I saw firsthand Brown’s early company works like Man Walking Down the Side of a Building (1970), and Roof Piece (1971). In that same time period, I watched her all women company perform laying on rafts in a lake near the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis. The work was sometimes minimal during those times, but Brown’s choreography quickly branched out in collaborations with artists Robert Rauschenberg, Fujiko Nakaya, Donald Judd and Laurie Anderson, to name only a few.

© Roger Martin Holman
© Roger Martin Holman

Now 80 years old, Brown is unable to tour with her company, the Trisha Brown Dance Company, but we had the pleasure of seeing her dancers perform In Plain Site Los Angeles at the J. Paul Getty Museum. Organized by the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA (CAP UCLA), the company has teamed up with museums and gallery spaces in Los Angeles to present excerpts from Brown’s repertoire in response to those specific sites. At the Getty, the company danced in the sculpture adored Tram Arrival Plaza that overlooks the hills of Brentwood. A large white marley floor defined the performance area and the dancers were costumed in all white.

A single male dancer opened the program performing Brown’s trademark loose-limbed style of movement in silence. He was followed by a quartet filled with unison phrases. Music was introduced for the first time as an electronic score provided the sound for two men wearing sun glasses. They danced in unison accented with very subtle shifts in timing. Two women moved through very slow penchés (a ballet term meaning leaning). They eventually became entangled and exited attached to one another face to face. The movement from that point shifted into a series of sculptural shapes that involved two dancers or as many as five. I was reminded of the works by such artists as Auguste Rodin. Mark di Suvero and Henry Moore; all artists whose work can be seen at the Getty Museum.

Double duets took place that intersected only by touching or briefly passing. There was a quiet trio where a woman gently tapped her partners on the shoulder, hip or back to send them in a new direction. A woman lies along the length of man’s out-stretched leg, reminiscent of the figureheads on 16th century ships. This image was repeated later on, but lasted a mere moment.

Roof Piece, Trisha Brown Dance Company © Jim Prisching
Roof Piece, Trisha Brown Dance Company
© Jim Prisching

A woman performs a duet with a closed aluminum A-frame ladder. She crawls through the rungs, under the ladder, leans on it and uses it as support or she supports it. The ladder is not opened fully until near the end of the “duet”, and she never uses it in the typical way, climbing up the rungs to the top. Brown explored all the unconventional uses of this inanimate object to give it life. As the “duet” ended, two female dancers return to Brown’s disjointed style, performing to a jazz score. The phrases are accented with sensual hip sways and shoulder circles that spiral into turns and/or leg extensions.

The program ends with the entire company entering with long wooden poles used to produce linear shapes, lines and Mark di Suvero like sculptures. These are quickly discarded as the dancers line up in a single row center stage (downstage to upstage).  The rhythmic sound of a metronome aids the dancers to move only their arms in slow and almost perfect unison from right to left, finger tips gently touching the center of their head. It is a section that harkens back to Brown’s early work which incorporated minimalism to make her statements. The Trisha Brown Dance Company members include Cecily Campbell, Marc Crousillat, Olsi Gjeci, Leah Ives, Amanda Kmett'Pendry, Tara Lorenzen, Leah Morrison, Jamie Scott, and Lee Serle.

Trisha Brown was one of the post-modern dance artists that helped shape what we now know as modern dance; artists such as Merce Cunningham, Robert Ellis Dunn, Simone Forti, Anna Halprin, Murray Louis, Alwin Nikolais, Yvonne Rainer and Lucinda Childs. What was shown at the Getty Museum was only a hint of Brown’s expansive movement vocabulary, selected and designed specifically for that space. The performance was very low-key and almost totally devoid of strong accents. The audience had to hone in on the movement, take in the surroundings or make choices as to where to put one’s attention. True to early Trisha Brown style, the company presented movement that speaks with the Getty Museum, rather than presenting work that was simply placed upon it.