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