WEBEXCLUSIVE

Last Love Letter

Trisha Brown, If you couldn’t see me, 1994. Photo: Kaus Rabien. Courtesy Trisha Brown Dance Company.

Dear Trisha,

Remember that time you danced for me and only me, with Carolyn Lucas playing Bob’s score on a cassette recorder? It was 1994, and you were about to premiere If you couldn’t see me, so I went to the studio to talk to you about it. (I think I must have been writing about it for “Goings on About Town.”) And you took me into a nearby room, and faced away from me, towards a brick wall, and danced all of If you couldn’t see me, just for me. It was the most curious moment. This was before dancers started staring you down as you sat in the front rows at Danspace, before dance started occupying museums, where dancers are two feet away from you. But there you were, and there I was, ten feet away, all alone, watching you. You couldn’t see me, but I could see you. I became, sitting there in the light, almost unbearably conscious of myself watching you. It wasn’t the theater, in a cloak of darkness, in the solitary communality of watchers. It was just daytime, and just me. And you were so beautiful, dancing just for me the same way you would dance for a full house. I’ve never gotten over it. I don’t want to get over it. So much later, years and years, when we would meet and you knew you knew me but now not perhaps quite why, but yes, you would light up and say, “There she is.” Yes there I was. And here I am.

Just outside this page, there is the faint music of a band, and you are glimmering, glimmery, shimmering, shimmery… 

I love you (foret forêt) forever,

Nancy

 

After some thirty-five years of performance and dance making, Trisha Brown retains both her potent allure and her singular astringency. Sorceress, enchantress, the cool mind in the hot body; over and over, she sees us for what we are, sitting in our seats in the dark, watching: voyeurs, the invisible fourth wall of the stage our window. Sometimes, she steps though to talk to us, to look right back.

Mostly, she pretends she doesn’t know we’re there.

In the theater, we are her tourists. We find ourselves in a place thoroughly modern, yet reeking of the ancient—of Crete, of Minoan palaces, of lost subterranean continents. If Circe were a choreographer, these would be her dances: Set and Reset, Opal Loop, Glacial Decoy, Foray Forêt. Although she is long out of the loft and into the spotlight, Brown’s basic concerns are consistent. Over the years, her compositions have grown more formal, her vocabulary more subtle, her expression more veiled, and her taste in music more classical. For Trisha, whose choreographic stance is rooted in rebellion, something old is something new. Her collaborators—major artists all—have varied, albeit with Robert Rauschenberg the abiding Brownian other. He has cloaked her in roses, built her astral convertibles, composed music for her to dance to, and taken bows on her stages.

Nonetheless, while the choreography evolves in cycles, each marked by a shift in tone and each reflective of the choreographer’s intellectual passions of the moment, its abstract elements differ only by degree. Always, the dances seem to be asking questions. What goes up must come down? What happens to momentum when an object changes direction? Can a wall be a floor? A leg? An arm? Can the laws of physics be made physical? Can dance dissolve? The choreographer answers herself in a style that makes of solipsism a virtue. For however different they may be from each other, her dancers are all Trisha, replicating not only her movement, but her very way of moving.

Hers is a method combining sensuality and denial—lush and languorous, but springing from the Puritan I-WILL-ERADICATE-TECHNIQUE aesthetic that characterized Judson Church, the experimental outpost of postmodernism’s heyday. Denial undeniably looks best on performers who have something to deny. In this arena of negation, where the characteristic gesture is erasure, Trisha is nonpareil. This, then, is the drama—the conflict—implicit in her style. It is not loose, but loosened. When the dances and the dancers convey this illusion of letting go, as Trisha herself does whenever she so much as walks across a room, the audience is seduced. Thus mesmerized, we may never notice the other tension inherent in the choreography, the conflict between the rules of the dances and their ineluctable unfolding.

Limpid. Deceptively easy. Impossible to remember. Impossible to forget. Only Trisha. And only Trisha’s moves.

 

Email to Deborah Hay, March 19, 2017

Dearest Deborah,

I found out at the theater tonight that Trisha died last night. I didn’t want you to find out hearing it on the radio or seeing it in the news. The first time I saw her was dancing with you in Austin—in that white box room near the TruValue Hardware Store on Guadalupe. You both wore white t-shirts with long sleeves, and white pants, and you danced around—the most delicious noodling I have ever seen—for about forty minutes, in silence, in the heat. It was divine.

Love, Nancy

Contributor

Nancy Dalva

is a longtime contributor to the Rail.

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