Trisha Brown Dances Through Life at 70
|Trisha Brown's Art Work|
Trisha Brown is a thin, willowy woman. Her dark curly hair - though touched with silver - is buoyant as are her steps. Both belie her age of 70.
And her age has not betrayed her career as a choreographer and a dancer.
BROWN: I did put myself into a choreography that just premiered in New York and at the end of the piece I do an improvisation with a pair of robots. In Japanese, they're called DekeNobos.
The Village Voice called her performance of 'I love my robots' an 'endearing epilogue' that 'wittily queries how we define being alive.'
BROWN: Well, I'm moving. I am flexible, I am agile. I know my body very well. Hey that's an advantage. That's one thing that age gives you as an advantage, you know things very well that you've engaged in all your life.
And Brown has been engaged as a dancer since age 10, when she learned her first steps.
BROWN: In Aunt Eva and Uncle Russell's third floor converted bedroom with my cousin Arlene. She was getting to take ballet lessons and I wasn't. And, she was showing me glissade de touches and I thought I want to do this.
Brown's choreography gained notice in the 1960s with the Judson Dance Theater. She started her own company in 1970. The Trisha Brown Dance Company preformed on rooftops and suspended on walls. She explored partnerships with visual artists like Robert Rauschenberg. The result - her signature dance piece titled: Set and Reset.
FOLEY: I will forever be touched by having seen that work because it was unlike anything I'd ever seen. And, now, here it is 21 years later and my students are doing that and it really just chokes me up to think that they're doing the same work that I saw years ago and at the time it was such a monumental piece and it still resonates so clearly.
Michael Foley is an assistant dance professor at USF. Eight of his students will perform Set and Reset under the guidance of professional dancer Stacy Mathew Spence.
SOUND: Dance rehearsal
Spence danced with the Trisha Brown Company for 10 years.
SPENCE: I did learn directly from the woman. We didn't have company classes. The classes come out of the choreography. So working with her and making new pieces is what leads you to have information as dancers you work on yourself. She was inspiring.
REPORTER: Did she actually get out and show you positions as you were showing students here? She got out and does she still do that at 70?
SPENCE: Yes, Yes. And Yes. I hope at 70 I'm just dancing my butt off just like she is.
SOUND: Dance music
Learning Brown's specific phrases - body movements - was a demanding for USF dance students trained in more classical styles such as Emily Stripling, Christina Ferarro and Katherine Almaguer. And then Spence made it even more difficult. He covered up the mirrored wall in the dance studio.
DANCE STUDENTS: So, we've never seen ourselves perform this piece. Or even the techniques. We've never seen ourselves even in technique class. He said he didn't want us to be judgmental of ourselves as we were going through the movements since it was all new to us. I don't even want to see myself do it.
Brown's technique has changed the way those students now perform. USF Assistant Dance Professor Foley:
FOLEY: It's literally changed their dance DNA.
SOUND: Museum video.
Several of Brown's choreographies play constantly on three TVs set up at USF's Contemporary Art Museum. A fourth TV shows Brown placing a piece of charcoal between her toes. She spins stretches and sprawls across large sheets of paper taped to the floor. The final creation is a series titled 'It's a Draw,' - part of a larger show featuring Trisha Brown's visual art of pencil drawings, etchings.
USF art student Ginger MacConnell:
MACCONNELL: She's doing something a lot of artists haven't done before. You remember how you used to learn how to dance the cha-cha, one two and you'd have those little feet on the floor where you can go backwards. This is something like she's doing here but she's not numbering each step. She's seeing what the medium will do for her. It's all very experimental.
Trisha Brown's willingness to experiment has never stopped. The McArthur Foundation recognized Brown's creativity and in 1991 awarded her a fellowship in what has become known as a genius grant.
SOUND: Monteverdi's Opera 'L'orfeo.'
In 1998 at age 61, she directed her first opera. USF named Brown as the 2007 Distinguished Master Artist.
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