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Emily Hite
Performance Reviews
Modern/Contemporary
Zellerbach Hall
United States
San Francisco Bay Area
California
Berkeley, CA
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Trisha Brown Dance Company at UC Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall

by Emily Hite
January 26, 2007
Zellerbach Hall
Bancroft Way at Telegraph
(2430 Bancroft Ave.)
Berkeley, CA 94704
510.642.9988
Program:
how long does the subject linger on the edge of the volume… (2005)
Geometry of Quiet (2002)
I love my robots. (2007)
Trisha Brown, artistic director and choreographer.
Dancers: Neal Beasley, Sandra Grinberg, Hyun-Jin Jung, Leah Morrison, Melinda Myers, Tony Orrico, Tamara Riewe, Judith Sanchez Ruiz, Todd Lawrence Stone.
Trisha Brown Dance Company arrived in Berkeley this evening with three of Ms. Brown's recent works, including two West Coast premieres. The program maintained a calm energy consistent with Brown's signature fluid movement. The pieces themselves faded in and out of being so that one felt in a constant state of middle—there were no abrupt beginnings or endings, no jolts or surprises. Music by Curtis Bahn, Salvatore Sciarrino and Laurie Anderson, respectively, provided understated sound environments in which to view the dances.

Emerging from New York's Judson Dance Theater in the 1960s as one of the key innovators of postmodern dance, Brown has continued to expand the art form's range of possibilities in performance. Since founding her company in 1970, she has created site-specific works, incorporated everyday movement and gestures into her dance vocabulary, collaborated with artists and recently, engineers of innovative technology. In working with musicians, designers and technicians to employ and reflect the latest advances in many fields of study into her dances, Brown strives to keep a timeless art form current.

The evening's first work, how long does the subject linger on the edge of the volume…, used motion capture technology to create an artificial-intelligence interpretation of the dancers' movement, which was projected onto a transparent screen in front of the live dancers. The process, which began with electronic sensors sewn to the costumes of some of the members of the company, used computer software to harness the essence of the dance movement and form an abstracted response in lines and shapes. The 2005 work came about through a project with arts and engineering departments at Arizona State University. The graphics projected in this evening's performance had been recorded at the premiere.

It was not always a clear relationship between bodies and the interpretive images. At first, a projected geometric pyramid seemed to have some grounding in triangular patterning of the dancers, but as the choreography became denser and more complex, the graphics functioned as a subordinate more than a complement to the live work. Furthermore, the shared space between flesh and digital image underscored two things. First, people are behind the wonders of technology (literally, in this case); second, even against the novelty of computer graphics, the structure and function of the human body continues to fascinate and captivate on its own terms. The latter point makes the case for Ms. Brown's sustained interest in pedestrian movement and explains why her aesthetic, which is nearly absent of athletic and technical "tricks," continues to generate audience interest.

How long was full of movement material that seemed constantly inventive, largely because unison was the exception rather than the norm when many dancers inhabited the stage. A few times the seven tumbled across in a loosely vertical construction (aligned from near the audience toward the back of the stage), each absorbed in a different danced phrase, wiping from right to left and leaving several dancers in stillness near one edge while the others continued offstage.

Throughout the dance, a pair or trio of dancers might slip into sync for a moment, and then slide out just as seamlessly and unpredictably as they had organized. The group followed its own internal rhythm rather than a melodious score and found collective harmony even when dancing individual movement. The dancers had extraordinary sensitivity within their own bodies and a finely developed understanding of the group's whereabouts. Entrances, exits, moments of union and counterpoint looked to have been achieved through an acute awareness of space and careful listening to one another's pace of motion.

The next piece was Geometry of Quiet from 2002, which looked much less "geometrical" than how long (the patron next to me said of the program's first piece, "They could have called it 'Fun with Colors and Shapes,'" because it looked emotionless and people-less. The red or blue unitard costumes helped erase the people inside them). Geometry of Quiet did not look mathematical at all, but rather it was full of human imagery brought about by specific points of contact—a dancer's hand behind another's neck, a foot on a torso, a head on a knee—which looked like touching and holding rather than sheer shape-making. While how long often placed two dancers in mirror image, Geometry of Quiet utilized partner work to create an atmosphere of intimacy.

Sciarrino's music for solo flute further developed an emotional content. The flourishing flute reminded me of Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf, in which the story's animal characters are represented by instruments that describe them. The Bird (flute) is usually cheerful, but becomes jittery when Peter is endangered. Sciarrino's "bird" would have been fussy at times and tranquil at others. Breaking up the calm of the liquid flowing, joint-released movement was a quick and erratic gesture performed by one dancer accompanying the musical whimpers.

Sail-like scenery designed by Brown herself and matching bone-colored, neither-loose-nor-tight costumes created with the flute sound an imaginary dry wind across barren land. The sail material looked unintentionally wrinkled (although this may have been intentional), which was agitating rather than soothing and which corresponded to the flutters breaking the smoothness of the music and movement.

In I love my robots, Ms. Brown graced the stage by dancing in the improvisational final section of her piece. At 70, the company director and choreographer glowed during her lengthy solo. She spoke to her two robots—vertical poles on square bases—like children as they roamed the stage first symmetrically, then seemingly at-will. One wonders if the title is a statement about Brown's relationship to her dancers, who dutifully visualize her choreographic ideas. The two top-heavy robots wandered the stage in jerky, awkward patterns, completely unlike the elegant, easily moving dancers.

Of the evening's three pieces, I love my robots contained the most full-bodied dancing and freely made use of the entire stage space (with no wings or backdrop), particularly in the opening solo danced by Sandra Grinberg. The robots' interaction with people was sometimes obstructive, sometimes unnoticed. Their trajectories were always limited compared to the dancers' moving around them. I love my robots, like how long, juxtaposed human beings and electronically operated devices in such a manner that people always drew the audience's attention for being more capable and more interesting to watch. At one point Ms. Brown said to her robots, "I'll race you. And—GO!" She won.
how long… (2005)

how long… (2005)

Photo © & courtesy of Julieta Cervantes


how long… (2005)

how long… (2005)

Photo © & courtesy of Julieta Cervantes


Geometry of Quiet (2002)

Geometry of Quiet (2002)

Photo © & courtesy of Marc Ginot


Geometry of Quiet (2002)

Geometry of Quiet (2002)

Photo © & courtesy of Marc Ginot

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