"Déjà vu all over again"

Trisha Brown and Company
presented by Cal Performances
Zellerbach Hall
University of California,
Berkeley, CA
January 27, 2007

by Paul Parish
copyright 2007, Paul Parish

Trisha Brown's company performed in Berkeley this past week-end, showing extraordinary calm, ease, silkiness of action, and dexterity while moving through her incalculably inventive combinations. There is no one anywhere who finds movement with the never-zoning-out attention to the logic of where-we're-at-now that Brown possesses. The moves that fired my mirror-neurons most were long balances on one leg, where the other leg snaked and curled around, challenging the integrity of the standing leg (until finally the leg would circle round the back and the rest of the body would have to go with it — it's kind of a fouetté action, and would usually not be over after a single turn but would elaborate in further lacy noodlings). There was also a lot of work on all fours and below the bottom of grand plié; some, not much, upside down.

It is alas indescribable in words; I suspect that Brown is fastidious that way and that she chooses, from the many options available to her at any moment (of which she is as aware as the celebrated NY-Giant football player Tiki Barber has been aware of what avenue might yield a touchdown, given the current disposition of players on the field), the variants that are the least describable.

Still, it would be possible to say a few things about the second piece ("The Geometry of Quiet," from 2002) that would not be trivial. My enjoyment of it depended a lot on pairings. It opened with a duet for two women who stood just barely onstage beside the stage-right wing. They wore very attractive pale jump-suits with sparkling sequins along the neck and shoulder lines, and they moved in canon, stretching out in arabesques one after another that tilted forward deeply. The taller girl, who was Caucasian, went into a deeper penchée, the other (who was colored) went into a tilt that became a "V," so the back stayed up while the leg continued to climb. They did this again and again in alternation, and facing opposite angles, making tiny variations on the set-up, and playfully tangling their legs together at last by bending at the back knee, whereupon they made a unit — the fancy dancer-equivalent of a three-legged race -- and made an exit sharing a balance in a manner I cannot recall. Perhaps one would hop, then the other; maybe it was something else, but it reminded me of the tall girl's dazzling exit in "Rubies." It was one of the truly fine exits.

In the finale of this piece, there was an extended double duet, where one couple was doing supported adage in the middle while the other did allegro hoppings-about. These dancers parallelled each other and framing the slow-moving couple like pigeons around a statue. It was completely delightful. The set, which consisted of gleaming pearly white legs and huge swathes of parachute silk that were periodically drawn in from either side, which could mask at least half the stage, had been designed by Brown herself. The dancers in the piece were Neal Beasley, Sandra Grinberg, Hyun-jin Jung, Tamara Riewe, Judith Sanchez Ruiz, and Todd Stone. Salvatore Sciarrino made the quiet music.

The first dance bore the fabulous name, "how long does the subject linger on the edge of the volume…," which press materials suggest Ms. Brown overheard one of the techies ask another in all seriousness, seized upon it as an objet trouvée, and made it her title. The piece looked more like Merce Cunningham than Trisha Brown — which was partly the result of the kind of articulations of the body the dancers made (with fewer squigglings than usual and many handsome clear first positions and extensions), partly the uncanny resemblance of the first dancers who entered to Robert Swinston and Jeannie Steele, partly to the costumes (unitards in greyed red and greyed blue), and most of all to the translucent scrim across the front of the stage, which received giant-sized projections of computer-generated graphics derived in part from the dancers' movements. (Credit for these apparitions, goes to Paul Kaiser, Shelley Eshkar, and Marc Downie.)

A short muscular dancer had an ingenious solo in which he kept imprisoning a limb in a hoop made of his arms. He'd then escape again and again with considerable ingenuity, only to involve himself in another, even more awkward trap, with maybe both legs somehow confined in his "bras bas." It put me in mind of the variation in Balanchine's "Four Temperaments" where the woman is virtually imprisoned in he man's arms and then walks right out of it. I doubt that Trisha Brown was quoting Balanchine; it's likely that she was intrigued by a similar problem and came up with her own solutions. And it's even likelier that there were much more interesting movement-problems she solved than these which I was not aware of at all. 

The piece had very little of the exquisite movement for the hands, for individual fingers, even, which the last piece on the program used in considerable degree and which are part of my sense of Trisha Brown's essential vocabulary — albeit they're a throwback to Isadora, when Trisha uses them, they're always her own. Whether or not she intended in "how…volume" to make a piece in Merce's vocabulary, an homage even, I have no idea. The soundscape likewise did put me in mind of some quiet John-Cage.

The phenomenon of computer graphics doesn't interest me much usually; but what intrigues me about THESE is the way these "ghosts" recreate the effects of the bits of newsprint that Picasso and Miró put into their first Cubist paintings. They echo what's already going on in a jarring way that's designed to create a "continuous present," so we see the same thing simultaneously from another angle. Gertrude Stein was after similar effects in her prose (e.g., "There is no there there"), of creating juxtapositions that re-oriented you and made you see something all over again as if you had not seen it the first time; Aram Saroyan's  notorious poem "lighght" seems to me to be in the same family. Myself, I worship Gertrude Stein, and love Saroyan's poem. They DO turn a light on inside ordinary things and make me see them with the full Verfremdungseffekt.

The last piece on the show, Trisha Brown performed in herself, I'm told, though she did not at the performance I saw. SO it became a question of identifying Trisha's bit. I was convinced during the performance that "her bit" came when an Olive-Oylish dancer of great beauty and personal charm started moving in such a perfect imitation of Brown's uniquely articulate personal style (with fully realized small releases, shoulder rolls, hand twists, rib isolations, that read across considerable distances). I had been slowly developing a painful stomach-ache as this dance proceeded, and found some of it hard to tedious, but this solo was enchanting. The dancers were joined by two motorized wooden constructions, stanchions, basically, that rolled around the stage obviously guided by remote control. The vertical 4x4s wobbled in predictable ways, and they shadowed the dancers frequently, and performed in the finale a trio with a male dancer, who talked to them in a sweetly whimsical way. The guy was adorable; the robots, alas, failed to amuse me. This section was improvised, and in fact, it had been Trisha's bit the night before.

The dancers in "I love my Robots" (2007) were Sandra Grinberg, Hyun-Jin Jung, Leah Morrison, Melinda Myers, Tony Orrico, Tamara Riewe, Judith Sanchez Ruiz, and Todd stone. The robots were designed by Kenjiro Okazaki. The music was by Laurie Anderson. Lighting by Jennifer Tipton.

Photo courtesy of Cal Performances.

Volume 5, No. 6
January 29, 2007

copyright ©2007 Paul Parish

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