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Fifth Avenue Blooms

How long is their nap?” my three-year-old asked about halfway through the Trisha Brown Dance Company’s performance of “Group Primary Accumulation,” a 20-minute supine dance for four. He wasn’t the only child offering unsolicited remarks; a one-year-old next to us frequently tried to enliven the proceedings with gleeful shrieks. The noises and comments weren’t unwelcome, however, even from the passerby screaming over the dancers’ heads: “What is going on here y’all? What is this about!?” This wasn’t the typical modern dance crowd. It wasn’t a theater either. 


Trisha Brown: “Locus” and “Group Primary Accumulation”


Fifth Avenue Blooms Festival presented by Dance Reflections by Van Cleef & Arpels, 5th Avenue, New York, NY, May 12, 2024


Faye Arthurs

Trisha Brown Dance Company at Fifth Avenue Blooms Festival by Van Cleef & Arpels. Photograph courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels

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This odd scene was part of the Fifth Avenue Blooms festival supported by Dance Reflections by Van Cleef & Arpels. For the third year in a row, the haute joaillerie house has commissioned outdoor modern dance performances and immersive floral experiences along 5th Ave during the month of May. VC&A has again enlisted artist Alexandre Benjamin Navet to design it. The installation runs for about ten blocks and includes pastel garden swings and cartoonish, flower-festooned benches. At night, these booths are artfully lit. Some old-timey carts doled out individually wrapped tulips, others handed out coffee. My kids flocked to the stools on one bedecked platform and a photographer snapped a polaroid of them and handed it to us in a trademarked sleeve. Then they were given trademarked pinwheels for the road. Everything was free.   

Last year, I saw a Pam Tanowitz piece at the Pulitzer Fountain in front of the Plaza Hotel. This year, the companies invited to perform in the midtown floral wonderland were the Trisha Brown Dance Company and Némo Flouret. At noon and 2pm on rotating weekends, they took over the atrium adjacent to the Chippendale building, between 5th and Madison avenues. I caught the TBDC’s offering, cutely titled “Trisha Brown: In Plain Site.” This half hour of programming included two dances from the ’70s: “Locus” and “Group Primary Accumulation.” To adapt these pieces for the unforgiving cement setting, four square, wooden platforms were arranged on the diagonal. Each square was large enough for one performer to lie on comfortably, as the quartet did in “Group.” In “Locus,” the same one-person-per-platform rule applied, however, there were two more dancers than there were platforms. Substitutes tapped in and out of the dance, waiting on the sidelines after their shifts.  

Trisha Brown Dance Company in “Group Primary Accumulation” at Fifth Avenue Blooms Festival by Van Cleef & Arpels. Photograph courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels

The entire affair was creepily ritualistic. The dancers wore simple white shirts and slacks for both works, which one dancer described afterwards as “Nurse Ratched chic.” There were little towels folded at the side of each platform, where the dancers removed their shoes before mounting barefoot onto their personal stages. It was as if they were stepping onto tatami mats, especially for the grounded “Group” dance. There was no music for either work, and no announcement before the dancers seriously went about their tasks, which, when added to the institutional white outfits and the choreographed shoe placements, cut the pretty floral milieu with strong cult vibes. Uninformed pedestrians were confused as hell. The incongruity was wonderful. 

Though the juxtaposition with the giant impressionist flower cutouts was unusual, the works of Trisha Brown are no strangers to the urban wild. In fact, “Group Primary Accumulation” premiered at the Sunken Plaza of the McGraw-Hill Building, some twenty blocks down and across town, on May 16, 1975. And my family’s next stop was the Museum of Modern Art, where my sons delighted in a 16mm black and white film of a man walking down the side of a building on Wooster Street in Soho, suspended by mountaineering cables—a recording of a Trisha Brown Company performance from 1970. (Coincidentally, Trisha Brown’s only other works at MoMA are a series of geometric “Locus” drawings in the archives.) This projection faced off against Gordon Matta-Clark’s massive Bingo sculpture (1974), which reassembled pieces of abandoned buildings in uncanny ways.   

Trisha Brown Dance Company at Fifth Avenue Blooms Festival by Van Cleef & Arpels. Photograph courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels

Both Brown and Matta-Clark’s art challenges ideas about architecture’s symbolism and functionality. Watching the “Group” dancers flat on their backs in the atrium made for several tipped heads, as the grown-up spectators closely considered the skyline. How often does one contemplate what it would be like to gaze up from the ground in the middle of skyscraper central? It was a thrilling shift in perspective for the adults, though the toddler set wasn’t fazed. They didn’t bother to look up. After all, they get tilted back in strollers all over the place for their own fidgety naps. The children were more confused by the adult dancers dipping and slicing and curving their bodies in jammies in a public forum. I tried to answer their many questions as best as I could and keep the pinwheels away from their eyeballs while I sipped my coffee with my tulips in hand. It was pleasantly surreal. The VC&A’s unlikely Blooms fest is becoming one of my favorite annual events. Actually, some of the most interesting dance programming all over town this year has been by the luxury jeweler. Just as Brown and Matta-Clark made me think about space and form in new ways, Van Cleef & Arpels has been blowing my mind about the roles of fine jewelry purveyors.  

Faye Arthurs

Faye Arthurs is a former ballet dancer with New York City Ballet. She chronicled her time as a professional dancer in her blog Thoughts from the Paint. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in English from Fordham University. She lives in Brooklyn with her partner and their sons.



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