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Timeless

Trisha Brown said her conversations with former French Minister of Culture Michel Guy occurred “outside of time.” Brown and Guy, who was the founder of the avant-garde international Festival d'Automne, would sit for hours discussing dance and art. Brown said during those discussion, Guy would have to adjust the blinds more than once to accommodate the changes in daylight.

Performance

Trisha Brown Dance Company: “For M.G.: The Movie,” “Rogues,” “Let's Talk About Bleeding”

Place

The Joyce Theater New York, NY, May 3, 2023

Words

Cecilia Whalen

Trisha Brown Dance Company's Cynthia Koppe, Jennifer Payan, Burr Johnson in “For M.G.: The Movie.” Photograph by Stephanie Berger

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Her piece in his memory, “For M.G.: The Movie,” which premiered in 1991 and was presented second on the program of the Trisha Brown Dance Company's recent season at the Joyce Theater, places itself in this mysterious, indefinite dimension. When the curtain rises, there are two dancers, one behind the other, standing stage left and facing upstage. There is no back curtain, and lighting (by Spencer Brown with Trisha Brown) shines down in a diagonal against the Joyce's brick wall. It's the sunlight through the blinds, sometime between dawn and sunset.

One of the dancers facing upstage leaves, but the second backward dancer remains a constant. “For M.G.: The Movie” is not a film, but it experiments with cinematic qualities. Around the upstage man, other dancers move in slow motion, walking and rolling across the floor. The soundscape by Alvin Curran is full of effects like a foghorn and an abrupt, repeated crash.

Due to the juxtaposed still and moving dancers and the slo-mo dynamics, Brown is able to shift our perspective instantaneously like unexpected cuts from one scene to the next. One woman moves across the stage with a delicate solo of hand and arm gesture. Towards the end of it, she pauses on the floor. All of a sudden, we notice another woman several feet behind her lying in the same position. How long has she been there? The dance plays tricks on us, maintaining enigma through subtleties and surprise.

There are no characters in “For M.G.,” but there is a central figure. A man runs in circular patterns around the stage. He leans into the run, giving in to the centrifugal force of his figure eights. Diane Madden, celebrated Brown alum who originated the running solo, wrote that to dance it felt like she was “a marble released in a bowl, following its course without interruption.” The runner tries to balance falling with a continuous push forward (or backward), but “the actual dance is in the miscalculations. Because of its fierce simplicity, it is one of the most challenging dances I've ever performed,” Madden said.

Cecily Campbell and Burr Johnson in “Rogues.” Photograph by Stephanie Berger

“Fierce simplicity” is one of Brown's trademarks. Brown was devoted to exploring what she called “pure movements, unedited by the all-pervasive judgmental mind.” Her “Back to Zero” cycle—which includes “For M.G.”—was a renaissance of that devotion. The 2011 piece, “Rogues,” which opened the Joyce program, is a nod to that cycle as well. Danced superbly by Cecily Campbell and Burr Johnson on the night I saw it, “Rogues,” is like a wind chime tossed around by the breeze. The duet jostles between humming in harmony and interrupting itself in opposing directions with new ideas.

Speaking of new ideas: This Joyce season marked the company's first ever commission by a new choreographer. Judith Sánchez Ruíz, who is an alum of the company from the early 2000s and now lives in Berlin, was handpicked by the artistic staff.

Patrick Needham and Burr Johnson in Sánchez Ruíz's “Let's Talk About Bleeding.” Photograph by Stephanie Berger

Similar to Brown's pieces on the program, in Sánchez Ruíz's “Let's Talk About Bleeding,” we’re never sure where we are. The dancers are in fabulous, frilly black and white costumes by Claire Fleury. Two dancers lie on the floor and initiate moves from their elbows, hitting the floor and poking each other. The other dancers enter, and it looks like a kind of wonderland with an exciting score by pianist Adonis Gonzalez-Matos, who played live with recordings of strings and synthesizers.

The choreography is full of little twists, in true Brown form. There are wild lifts where women are swung around horizontally, and gentler ones where two people support a middle third like bookends. Sánchez Ruíz describes the piece as “a symphony of layers.” Sometimes, the symphony is polyphonic, with dancers doing many things all at once. Other times, the voice becomes singular as the dancers slow down and make their way to one another.

Trisha Brown Dance Company in Sánchez Ruíz's “Let's Talk About Bleeding.” Photograph by Stephanie Berger

In one of my favorite parts, the six dancers are lined up, facing stage left with one arm extended. One dancer drops her arm and begins to dab her head against the man in front of her. Her head bounces off of him, and this creates a reverberation. Eventually, all six dancers are bouncing off of each other. Finally, the bouncing speeds up to a shake, and the dancers explode, vibrating.

“It's a metaverse in which multiple universes collide, seeming to exist simultaneously, yet viewed in segments: a poetic constellation,” Sánchez Ruíz says in a program note. Sometimes we are looking at all the moving stars at once, which twinkle and shoot around the stage. Sometimes, the stars align, and the shape of the unified constellation appears vividly.

The perspective continues to shift. At the end, the dancers lie down beside each other facing front, each head placed on the hip of the dancer ahead of them. They roll over slowly and change position. At last, a blue-green light (by Tricia Toliver) waves over them. In conclusion, the dancers are cuddled up, at rest beneath the sparkling night sky.

Cecilia Whalen


Cecilia Whalen is a writer and dancer from Charlotte, North Carolina. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and holds a bachelor's degree in French. Currently, Cecilia is studying composition at the Martha Graham School for Contemporary Dance in New York City. She lives in Brooklyn.

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