Tom Strini
Trisha Brown at Alverno

Rational bodies in motion

The Alverno Presents series brings Trisha Brown's elegant, skilled dances and dancers back to Milwaukee.

By - Oct 21st, 2012 02:30 am
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The pleasure of human movement, both experienced and observed, is the subject of Trisha Brown’s dances. Brown’s company of eight danced four of them Saturday evening on the Alverno Presents series. A pliant, articulate fluency and a tendency toward understatement informed them all. Watching these dances is like listening to the most brilliant, civilized conversation — dazzling yet modest, unhurried, going nowhere in particular but engaging every step of the way, as much as celebration of language as of content.

Grace under pressure is part of the Brown aesthetic. Saturday, we enjoyed all the grace and felt none of the pressure. Neal Beasely, Tara Lorenzen, Megan Madorin, Leah Morrison, Tamara Riewe, Stuart Shugg, Nicholas Strafaccia and Samuel Wentz made these intricate, athletic and technical dances look easy.


Samuel Wentz and Nicholas Strafaccia. Laurent Philippe photo courtesy of the Trisha Brown Dance Company website.

They and Brown fine-tune their work, not just down to the timing and shape of the step but deeper, to finely measure the force behind the step and gesture and the degree to which the muscles bind trunk or limb.

Leah Morrison recited Brown’s thesis in the utterly silent Watermotor, a solo that Brown (now 75) made for herself in 1978. Morrison was calmly beautiful, which is Brown’s way. She laid out the initial phrase with a cushioned spring in her step, the back and neck firmly erect but lightly held. Big, circling gestures from loosely held arms lent the phrase gaiety.

Over the next two or three minutes, Brown, through Morrison, refaced and varied the phrase in ever more ingenious ways. But neither Brown nor Morrison intensified the dance emotionally or athletically. Brown presents the classical, civilized, exquisite body, a body driven by intellect and the joys of elevated wit. She seeks to engage us on that high plane, not rile us up.

In Les Yeux et l’âme (2011), the ensemble and Brown enjoyed a tête-à-tête with Jean-Philippe Rameau, via music from his Pygmalion, an acte de ballet from 1748. Rameau ran in Enlightenment circles, and the clarity and grace of his music reflect that. The orderly geometry of Brown’s ensembles represent her take on Baroque figure dances, but she achieves her figures largely with arrangements of couples. Their partnering involves much close physical contact, but it’s about the leveraging physics, not about passion.

Robert Rauschenberg designed the “visual presentation” and the gold harem pants, belts and (for the women) halters for the Foray Forêt (1990). The dancers appeared at first in silhouette against a deep rose light cast on the backdrop. The atmosphere was more exotic and dreamy and the pace slower than in the preceding dances. Subsets of dancers often converged into a formation at center stage and struck angular shapes, often held for some time or slowly transformed. As time went on, some of the ceremonial action began to migrate to the wings, with dancers partially concealed behind the curtains.

About then, sounds of a band outside began to penetrate the Pitman Theater — drums and brasses, with Afro-Caribbean jazz feel. The sound came from various locations from the back and sides of the house and at varied volume levels. Suddenly, those gold costumes suggested carnaval, and you could swear that the dancers were picking up on the rhythm of the distant music. Were they? Or was I just reading that into their movement because I was hearing the music? The point of the piece is to make you think about such things. Note that the company uses random local music for this purpose wherever in the world it goes. When we broke for intermission, there was De La Buena, playing up a storm outside the open lobby doors and collecting their smiles and applause.

A battery of assorted industrial fans stood at stage left, in front of exposed light standards and the bare brick walls of the theater. They ran with a roar and rippled the dancers’ voluminous white costumes, which Kaye Voyce created for Brown’s I’m going to toss my arms — if you catch them they’re yours (2011). The dancers were among the fans, at first, ducking down now and then like children playing among hedges. They emerged, after a time, and took up an expansive vocabulary of sinuous extensions and spiraling turns.

Neal Beasely led the way. He removed his shirt and dropped it to the floor. The fans blew it across the stage — a recurring theme as the company shed whites to get all or part way down to the colorful trunks (men) or swimsuits beneath. As Alvin Curran’s recorded music entered and rose above the fan roar, the tireless Beasely laid out the themes in a solo, then assorted subsets of the company came and went and danced with him. Morrison finally spelled him with another effortless, riveting solo. Then the company assembled for the evening’s biggest, busiest number.

You’d think that would be the grand finale, but that’s not Trisha Brown. She let it dwindle away. Brown doesn’t want you to get too excited. She just wants you to pay attention.

Display photo on A&C page: Leah Morrison, Allison Duffy photo courtesy of the company’s website.

Next up on Alverno Presents: Jon Mueller Death Blues, Nov. 16-17.

Don’t miss anything! Bookmark Matthew Reddin’s TCD Guide to 2012-13, sponsored by the Florentine Opera, and consult Danielle McClune’s On Stage weekly update every Tuesday.


Neal Beasely and Leah Morrison. Laurent Philippe photo courtesy of the company’s website.




Categories: A/C Feature 3, Dance

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