Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Early Trisha, Caught

On Madison Avenue walking past luxe handbags and antiques in perfect window displays you don’t expect to see videos of a renegade movement artist. But next to the Whitney Museum last weekend a passerby could get snagged before two store windows with wide-screen monitors showing early works by choreographer Trisha Brown.* It happened that way to me. I was snagged and then deeply moved, seeing the wildness and brilliance of the early Trisha.

Adventurous and visionary are words too tame to describe what she did and who she was then. Of course there's been an entire and tremendous oeuvre since. But here you see her planting a flag as a post-modern herald. Clad in clear red against a backdrop of muted Soho rooftops, she spooled out improvised gestures, many of them just skewed from ones with particular meanings and building in whimsical ways from one gesture to the next. Her pointing finger swooped around to locate a target which dissolved somewhere off to her side, her hands conducted a dialogue of curlicues. This invented semaphore got passed as a game of ‘telephone’ across the roofs from one dancer to another. It marked the airspace as artists’ playground and, along with other contemporaneous forays, forever transformed ideas about what a ‘dance’ might be.

In the next store window was Jonathan Demme’s 1986 video of Trisha performing Accumulation with Talking Plus Water Motor, shot in her studio with boxes of set pieces (ready for tour?) and her dancers accumulating gradually on the periphery to watch raptly. In her eyes is the wild exhilaration of a creature dared to move to the edge of its physical and mental limits. She mobilizes each neuron, synapse and muscle memory to accomplish her personal quadrafecta – splicing two stories, and two dances randomly and remembering end and beginning points for each to make a seamless, if bumpy ride of synergistic non-sequitors. The one dance, Water Motor, buffeting her body with surprise turbulences that ripple out into her flung arms and corkscrewing turns. The other, Standing Accumulation, gradually builds a long phrase with measured calm, one repeating action at a time.

This is the Trisha I recall watching at every performance with devotion and wonder. She looks as though there is nothing on the planet that could be more right for her to do, more delicious, or more exciting. And that is what she shared with us—her delirious pleasure in investigating physicality. In particular, she delved into what the body might do when the momentum of falling is harnessed in updraughts, careenings through space, and pliant, internal readjustments that blossom out into detailed articulations of every body part. In this solo she had found a challenge equal to her level of skill (which was off the charts) and went for it like a famished fighter. Demme captured her relish for all time. Seeing it I realize that I love this person in a way I never loved anyone before or since: as my dancing heroine, as the sun in my dancing solar system.

* Trisha Brown: Early Works 1966-1979 by Babette Mangolte, Jonathan Demme, Klaus Kertess, et al. DVD Published by: ARTPIX Notebooks