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Dance review: Trisha Brown remains creative force

Friday, August 12, 2011
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Members of the Trisha Brown Dance Company rehearse the piece “Foray Foret.”
Members of the Trisha Brown Dance Company rehearse the piece “Foray Foret.”

— In four decades of dance-making, choreographer Trisha Brown has never lost her edge. That is made clear this week at Jacob’s Pillow, where the Trisha Brown Dance Company is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a retrospective program.

The four-piece evening demonstrates that Brown’s movement mode has not changed all that much. All of her dances float with seamless patterns that swirl like a liquidy stew. A swing of the arms and a twist of the head launch her dancers into gazelle-like leaps and grande battements. Everything feels serene and easy.

But while her movement through the ages may look repetitive, her concepts are not. She approaches every dance with an intellectual curiosity that challenges her artistry as well as the expectations of the audience. A new Brown piece means a new Brown exploration. Therein lies her genius.

Trisha Brown Dance Company

WHERE: Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, 358 George Carter Road, Becket, Mass.

WHEN: 8 tonight, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday

HOW MUCH: $63-$58

MORE INFO: 413-243-0745 or www.jacobspillow.org

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WHERE: Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Spa State Park, Saratoga Springs

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

HOW MUCH: $30

MORE INFO: 587-3330 or www.spac.org/

Survey of decades

This program, which can be seen in part on Tuesday night at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, is one that surveys her history as each decade is represented. Her older works, “Spanish Dance” from 1973 and “Set and Reset” from 1983, fare best. Her newest piece, “Les Yeux et l’âme,” is also engaging — for its pairing of churning intimate movement and Rameau music. But “Foray Forêt,” from 1990, stretches too long. Yet in it we find Brown at her most daring — forcing her audience to rethink the relationship between music and movement.

In “Foray Forêt,” the dancers begin their trademark sway in silence. And then, off in a distance, we hear a marching band. The music slowly increases in volume — like a parade approaching. And then it fades out again. Throughout, the dancers oscillate in a cocoon of rhythmic vibration — seemingly unaware of the music.

Brown further toys with perspective by having the dancers perform in the wings as much as they do across the stage. While the costumes by Robert Rauschenberg are lovely — silky and flowing tunics and slacks in multicolored greens and blues — the dance struggles to maintain interest.

“Les Yeux et l’âme,” to music from “Pygmalion,” shows that Brown’s dances can live side-by-side to any music. The baroque music coupled with her intertwined dancers, who are not performing anything close to baroque dance, is gorgeous. Cast in gray, the piece radiates with a pulsating fellowship among the dancers.

Bit of heaven

Also wonderful is “Spanish Dance.”

Set to “Early Morning,” as sung by Bob Dylan, the piece features five women in white whose swaying hips and flamenco-style arm movements have a magnetic pull. One woman comes up against another, against another and another, inspiring her to match the rhythm. This quintet is a brief bit of heaven.

Finally, “Set and Reset” is a stunner. Set to Laurie Anderson’s music of clanks, pops and thumps, and Rauschenberg’s geometric set and sheer costumes, the piece is a crowd-pleasing closer.

The movement is similar to all that went before, but Brown packages it in a way that feels fresh. And that is what sets her apart.

 
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