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03 Apr

Context Notes: Trisha Brown Dance Company

Each year for the past three years we at New York Live Arts have invited different writers to each reflect on the aesthetic and conceptual concerns of our season artists, as a way of providing entry points into the work that our audiences will be seeing, locating the work within a larger cultural context and encouraging informed discourse. It’s never been about suggesting how one should think about or respond to any of these works, but rather to offer a dialogue, to spark a conversation, to take these works and these artists seriously. 

This year I have joined as one of three writers, along with Aaron Mattocks and Ivan Talijancic. To date, I have contributed thoughts on three of the artists including Moroccan artist Bouchra Quizguen, French artist Jerome Bel who worked with the Swiss Company Theater Hora, Serbian artists Sasa Asentic and Ana Vujanovic and, upcoming, for the late French choreographer, Alain Buffard, whose work, Baron Samedi, will be presented in early May as part of DANSE – A French-American Festival of Performance & Ideas 

But it would be sheer hubris of me to suggest that I have something to say about the celebrated artist Trisha Brown that hasn’t already been said by countless knowledgeable folks – curators, international festival producers, critics, scholars, visual arts leaders, peer artists and longtime colleagues, etc.. This luminary, who has so deeply influenced succeeding generations of artists over the course of her long, brilliant, multi-directional and game-changing career, has had so much written about her, deservedly so.

So I am going to go personal. It’s of happy reminiscences for which I have enormous pride and even more gratitude.

I love and am interested in so many forms of art, but I love dance, dance with a capital D, for a whole range of reasons and love being in positions where I can follow and support various risk-taking investigations that may well move the forms of dance forward.

For me, Trisha is an artist whose means, spatial awareness and movement vocabulary have always given me delicious pleasure, not only on a cerebral level but on a deeper plane that speaks to our fundamental body-mind connection, how one literally perceives dance. Watching her dancers over the many years has given me the deep kinesthetic sense that I am somehow, like them, fully embodying the intelligent choices of movement and choreographic structures. That I can (magically) move like they move. That I understand without words why they are moving the way they are. That I literally experience a sense of being them, all while safely planted in my theater seat. That I am them.

Both Dance Theater Workshop (DTW) and now New York Live Arts operate out of a commitment to working with independent, progressive artists across generations. Identifying the young ones who seem possessed of nascent gifts and, as importantly, a steely will that insists on continuing to make work in an inordinately challenging field – a fundamental mission. And following through to the likes of those who have been honing their distinctive voices so keenly –artists like Reggie Wilson, Tere O’Connor, RoseAnne Spradlin, Annie-B Parsons and Paul Lazar, and many others. And artists in between. But it’s been rare over the years that either organization has had the opportunity to work with the likes of such an internationally acclaimed artist like Trisha who has been on some of the most prominent operatic stages in the world.

But why hadn’t an organization like DTW ever worked with her? I suppose that there are a myriad of reasons but it seems to me that by the time DTW might have been in a position to consider working with Trisha, her practice was distinctly different from the core of DTW artists, and she was then soon off to making larger scale works with notable collaborators, like Robert Raushenburg, Robert Ashley, Kurt Munkacsi, Donald Judd, Laurie Anderson, Cage, and others, and even silence as a collaborator (not in any order here).

But when it became public that the company was approaching its 40th year, I wanted DTW to be a part of it. As a tribute to her wide-ranging influence. And to be able to offer audiences the opportunity to see Trisha’s work on a stage that, while not operatic in scale, was reasonably sized AND offered the intimacy of a small house. First, Rebecca Davis organized the 40th anniversary year talk series at DTW in 2010, which was a precursor to our hosting the company the following year. And we had Trisha’s wit and memory in the house for each of those talks.

When we had the company here at DTW for a two-week run in March 2011 performing For MG: The Movie (1991), Watermotor (1978) danced by Neal Beasley, and Foray Forêt (1990), people commented over and over about how special that level of intimacy was for them. We also projected as a loop Babette Margolte’s dance film, Water Motor, on our lobby wall, allowing audiences to watch Trisha dance her solo, once at normal speed and then in slow motion. And then to compare the two genders and vastly different physicalities of Trisha then and Neal now. I remember presenting Foray Forêt in its US premiere at the Wexner Center for the Arts in 1990 when I was then Assistant Director of Performing Arts (the late Bill Cook was Director of Performing Arts), during the early years of that interdisciplinary arts organization when it was looking at and reflecting upon the work of the major figures in modern and post-modern dance. The acclaimed Ohio State University marching band played the John Phillip Sousa score behind the theater walls. Carolyn Brown and Diane Madden, now the company’s Associate Artistic Directors, along with David Thomson, an artist in his own right and on the New York Live Arts board, Shelley Senter, Lance Gries, Wil Swanson and others were in the original cast back then. Mesmerizing. I loved being able to work with Barbara Dufty, Diane Madden and Carolyn Brown to bring that work to our stage in 2011.

That same year, Movement Research (MR) honored Trisha and the original cast of Set and Reset (along with me as a former MR Executive Director.) To a packed, hushed and then jubilant house at Judson Church they performed the work, first with the original cast – Diane Madden, Stephen Petronio, Vicky Shick, Irene Hultman, Randy Warshaw and Eva Karczag. There was something very beautiful in the passing of the dancers metaphoric batons, from original cast to current members, something poetic about how influence and information is passed down, and on. Our lineages.

There is more to say – especially about the four iconic works to be seen tonight, Jodi Melnick’s work, One of Sixty Five Thousand Gestures, that she had Trisha create for her as part of her commissioned run at New York Live Arts in 2012, and the beautiful work, New Work for the Desert, by Beth Gill on our stage this March, inspired, in part, by Brown’s Newark (Niweweorce) (1987) – but I will end now with another lovely moment for me, tho insignificant for the field. When I was for a moment working as a video artist and documenting dance in the mid-‘90s, I got the chance to videotape Trisha in her prime dancing her indelible solo work If you couldn’t see me (1994) in Houston, TX (a work that has been since set on the beautiful and statuesque Leah Morrison). Watching Trisha even more acutely through the camera lens, her back (and spine and limbs) ever to the audience, and having to simultaneously follow and anticipate her intelligent, poetic and elastic expressivity, I had that delicious kinesthetic experience imprinted even more in my being.

I secretly hope that my 3/4 tape is still in their archives.

– Carla Peterson, Artistic Director

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31 Mar

Carla Peterson in conversation with luciana achugar

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24 Mar

Reading List & Links from “Bill Chats: When did the avant-garde become black?”

Black Dance Magazine –

Dances That Describe Themselves by Susan Leigh Foster – University Press of New England

I Want to be Ready: Improvised Dance as a Practice of Freedom by Danielle Goldman – University of Michigan Press

Dancing Many Drums: Excavations in African American Dance by Thomas F. DeFrantz – University of Wisconsin Press

How to Do Things with Dance: Performing Change in Postwar America by Rebekah J. Kowal – Wesleyan University Press

Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists & Progressive Politics During World War II by Farah Jasmine Griffin – Basic Civitas Press

African American Concert Dance: The Harlem Renaissance and Beyond by John Perpener – University of Illinois Press

Butting Out: Reading Resistive Choreographies Through Works by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar and Chandralekha by Ananya Chatterjea – Wesleyan

Geography: Art/race/exile by Ralph Lemon – Wesleyan

Not So Black and White by Alexis Wilson – Tree Spirit Publishing

Alvin Ailey: A Life in Dance by Jennifer Dunning – Da Capo Press

Joan Myers Brown and the Audacious Hope of the Black Ballerina by Brenda Dixon Gottschild – Palgrave Macmillan

Marion Cuyjet and Her Judimar School of Dance by Melanye White Dixon – Edwin Mellen

Black Performance Theory by Thomas F. DeFrantz and A
nita Gonzalez

Dance Magazine “Finding the Power” By Charmaine Warren –

Parallels, Danspace Project Platform 2012




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24 Mar

Context Notes: luciana achugar


Since her childhood days in South America, the Brooklyn-based, Uruguay-born performance-maker luciana achugar developed an intimate understanding of the profound impact of politics on people’s personal lives, having witnessed first hand the vicissitudes of life under tyrannical governmental regimes but also the empowering sense of togetherness in the face of adversity. achugar’s formative years are tinged with memories of people organizing demonstrations in her parents’ home, of silent marches for the disappeared, and the feeling of connectedness originated by large masses of people coming together, ensuing in her keen awareness of injustice, violence, power structures and military oppression. 

Artistically, during those formative years achugar was first exposed to modern dance in her native Montevideo by training with a protégé of Jose Limon’s from New York. Ultimately keen on discovering other approaches, achugar pursued her university training at CalArts in Los Angeles, where she discovered post-modern dance and release techniques which greatly informed the future development of her own choreographic vocabulary in the ensuing years.

Originally dedicating herself to dancing, achugar came to choreography as a result of a desire for deeper participation in the creative process she had been a part of, which resulted in first collaborative projects with Levi Gonzalez, whom she found a common artistic ground. Countering the traditional hierarchical model, which endows the choreographer with all the decision-making power, achugar pursued a creative process based on dialogue. Interested in unlocking dance’s potential to engage in existential and philosophical discourses, and fascinated with the phenomenology of pleasure in movement, she embarked on an ongoing investigation of connections between the experience of living within one’s body and one’s life within a society. While discovering her choreographic voice in the United States as a foreigner, achugar also developed a prominent sense of awareness of her adoptive culture, afforded by her vantage point as an “other.” 

Both within her own practice and within the larger context in which her work is presented, OTRO TEATRO (literally translated, “another/other theatre”) is a call for a new paradigm. achugar believes that theatre is a forum for offering possibilities, a space for utopia, an incubator for the notion that another world is possible. For her, this work became an opportunity to question the very fabric of her practice, to investigate what performance is and why she makes it. Concerned with the capitalist model, where each work is ultimately viewed as a product that is served to the consumer in a supply-and demand chain, achugar was very keen on subverting that dynamic, instead approaching this work as a ritual involving a shared transformation of the performer’s body as well as the audience’s. This work evolves as a continuation of an approach she began to develop with her previous evening-length work, PURO DESEO, based on the premise of putting a spell on the audience through ritual, singing and repetition. This path is rooted in her philosophical principle of embodying pleasure, as a resistance to producing dances as material for consumption. Although achugar challenges herself by unapologetically pushing the boundaries of exposure and vulnerability to the fullest, she also manages to conjure a powerful act: being objectified by the audience’s gaze transforms into a true act of sharing and experiencing a sense of togetherness.

–Ivan Talijancic

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21 Mar

Stay Late Discussion: Beth Gill “New Work for the Desert”

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20 Mar

Come Early Conversation: Beth Gill “New Work for the Desert”

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13 Mar

Context Notes – Beth Gill

The descent beckons
                  as the ascent beckoned.
                                  Memory is a kind
of accomplishment,
                  a sort of renewal
an initiation, since the spaces it opens are new places
                   inhabited by hordes
                                      heretofore unrealized,
of new kinds—
                  since their movements
                                    are toward new objectives
(even though formerly they were abandoned).

—William Carlos Williams, excerpt from The Desert Music


January 10, 2014 [notebook entry]
Specificity of body shapes, angles. Silence. Jennifer’s arms lifted behind her back like a cactus. Simplicity. Purity. Sculptural. Pictoral. Geometric.

The way Jennifer exists alone (mostly), as does Marilyn–they are a pair in their own isolation. Kayvon and Christiana as duet partners, dancing together but differently than the others (aesthetically even, or energetically), and Stuart and Heather as a single unit, like shadows of each other. The surprise and break of Stuart and Heather’s unison into same-sex duets with Kayvon and Marilyn is so exciting because of the duration of their unison. It is a break that allows us to begin to see them separately, in relief against these new partnerships. The energy shift feels dramatic and ushers in a new and very different kind of relationship, far downstage, both on their knees with their crotches forward. Kayvon’s foot finds Stuart’s rear, while Heather’s neck and chest stretch up and over Marilyn’s doubled-over back. Heather’s neck and the underneath of her jaw. Sensuality. I see animals and sex. An almost slow-motion copulation.

The way everyone is so evocative of landscape, of space and existence and plant and animal without a kind of literalness, but that inside the space there exists a place, and relationships, that are so carefully chosen and thoughtfully mapped out.  The build of dynamics and pacing is both restrained and considered. I see Merce Cunningham and Trisha Brown. It makes me think about how our field is needing to remember its history but also embrace its fluid future, a new wave of formal considerations, members of our own generation who are creating things informed by the past but very much on the forefront of our present. I feel that Beth is a choreographer of our time. I can only imagine with her sound and visual design collaborations how effective and quietly profound and stunning this dance can be. [end of entry]


February 3, 2014
For perhaps as long as the desert and art have co-existed, artists and writers have been inspired by its beautiful, spare landscape, its light and color. Gill has discussed at length the experience of working alone within the desert environment for two months, seeing an almost foreign geographic terrain, thinking about its vastness, its emptiness, the way open space framed what she saw and how she saw it, her capacity to see depth, and the experience of seeing that depth collapse into an almost 2D old-time film studio backdrop. Her interest in the visual and psychological ways that we perceive has been a thread throughout her work, as has a starkly imprinted formalism, symmetry, geography of the body and the body in relation to specifically demarcated and designed spaces. When I spoke with Gill, she told me that while she was working in the desert, she was filled with the memory of seeing Trisha Brown’s Newark (Niweweorce). (It is perhaps subconsciously present in Gill’s own title: New Work. Newark.) Gill talked with me about homage, about having an intense love for another artist (in this case Brown, though she also mentioned being inspired by visual artist James Turrell), wanting to immerse herself in the memory and feelings of her experience of that other dance, the expectations of historic reference, her responsibility for changing or transforming that memory. How she loves dance for its durational aspect – the way it can completely erase or alter the experience of time, or its ability to reveal the experience of time passing, reflecting our own human experience of the fleetingness of time, of mortality.

Watching that studio run through back in January, I couldn’t stop thinking about time passing, and lineage. I was seeing moments, refracted, of things that reminded me of other things, of the past. Watching the Cunningham company for the last time at the Park Avenue Armory was in my head while Christiana and Kayvon were performing their duet; the last time I saw the Trisha Brown Dance Company at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, just after it was announced that Brown would no longer choreograph, was there while Stuart and Heather danced in impossibly perfect unison. The past was very alive in the present. I was thinking about the spaces these titans of modernity fill in our history, the incredible impact each has had on our field, but also the voids, the spaces their absences have left. As I watched Gill’s work, it became clear to me that while we have these people (Cunningham, Brown, et al) and each their oeuvre to look back on and to revive, the thing that inevitably must occur is that new choreographers will emerge to fill these empty spaces. We won’t ever have a new Trisha Brown dance. But there is a generation of dancemakers who are making work in the 21st century and using these legacies as inspiration to make compellingly original dances of their own. Pam Tanowitz immediately comes to mind, the way she seems to be in some kind of constant conversation with, and simultaneously in homage to, the Cunningham heritage (not to mention the ballet lineage). And as I watched New Work for the Desert unfold, I realized that what I was seeing was a rich experience that clearly drew on a deep love and appreciation for Brown’s aesthetic, but was pushing beyond the past into strikingly new territory.  Perhaps it is a New Work for the Desert. But it is also a new work for the new millennium. A new work for now. A new work for Newark. History and originality as foreground and background, admirably blurred. A new landscape imprinted with the power of a memory. As William Carlos Williams wrote: “…a kind of accomplishment / a sort of renewal / even / an initiation, since the spaces it opens are new places / inhabited by hordes / heretofore unrealized, / of new kinds—…”

—Aaron Mattocks

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07 Mar

Studio Series: Sam Kim’s Talkback

As part of Studio Series, Sam Kim presented a work-in-progress of her newest work, Sister to a Fiend, this past January. Below is an excerpt from her talkback moderated by Jen Rosenblit.

Check this out on Chirbit

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06 Mar

Come Early Karaoke: Cynthia Hopkins “A Living Documentary”

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04 Mar

Carla Peterson in Conversation with Cynthia Hopkins

Cynthia Hopkins in Conversation with Carla Peterson from New York Live Arts on Vimeo.

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