Postmodern choreographer Trisha Brown may have retired, but the dancers with her Trisha Brown Dance Company brought to life the subtlety, grace and remarkable analytics inherent in her vision during a weekend performance at Duke University’s Sarah P. Duke Gardens.
The evening began in the meadow where eight dancers, dressed in long-sleeved white T-shirts and soft white pants with white sneakers, stood against a field of green grass while facing east. They were awaiting the audience and once all were seated, the dancers moved – a small lunge, a shoulder turn, a head roll, a leg sweep, a knee lift – to no sound except for ambient background noise: bells ringing, a car horn, a helicopter’s whir, a bus groaning. Two excerpts from one of Brown’s last two dances were performed: “I am going to toss my arms – if you catch them they’re yours” (2011). The dance got its name as Brown, facing health issues, reportedly threw the phrase out to her dancers while creating the piece.
Adapted specifically for Duke Gardens, the excerpts, true of Brown’s work overall, were marked by a deep sense of beauty found in shape and form, a sense of a body effortlessly moving through space, and the grace inherent in line and angle. The effect was like watching sculptures in motion.
The last two pieces in the meadow were drawn from Brown’s early works: “Solo Olos” (1976) and “Figure 8” (1974), performed to the beat of a metronome. Again, dancers demonstrated how Brown’s choreography becomes a moving form of visual art.
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From the terraces, the audience then watched a lone male dancer perform “Locus” (1975) in front of the koi pond on a square wooden platform, marked inside by a green-painted square line and a small cross at the center. Brown created the piece to map the alphabet on the points of a cube.
The last dance, “Raft Piece” (1973), was performed in the duck pond and included four dancers on wooden rafts, each one held up by baby-blue floats. Three geese on shore stood seemingly fixated on the unfolding performance.
All these site-specific works mixed Brown’s unique body language with a steady sense of flow to produce a kind of meditative hieroglyphics.