Late last year, pioneering American choreographer Trisha Brown announced she’d be retiring. Her company is now undertaking a farewell tour, and it’s fitting they appear at Dance Umbrella, which did much to introduce Brown to the UK.
we see not the separate groups but their fleeting, sometimes perilous patterns of interference – casual crashes, cartwheel swerves, slippery lifts.
Astral Convertible, opening the programme, was created in 1989 but bears the marks of her 1970s pieces for galleries, buildings or streets. Lamps on scaffolding impart a construction-site feel. The nine dancers, echoing Brown’s early experiments with walking down walls or leaning to tipping point, often seem to work at odd angles to gravity. Jumps are tilted, turns off-centre. They lie down and scooch sideways, or pedal legs as if climbing stairs in the air. They seem to inhabit distinct but overlapping planes: one group shuffles along while another springs into the wings. These planes begin to intersect: we see not the separate groups but their fleeting, sometimes perilous patterns of interference – casual crashes, cartwheel swerves, slippery lifts. It’s a bracing pleasure to watch.
Easier to apprehend, though no less bracing, is Watermotor – Brown’s short, spry solo from 1978, deftly performed by Neal Beasley. Here, multiple planes seem packed within a single body. Beasley’s limbs tug in different directions, ripples wriggle through his hands, his hips slide out of place. It’s as if there are several people inside him.
I’m Going to Toss My Arms – If You Catch Them They’re Yours, from 2011, is Brown’s last work. It lacks the physical immediacy of Watermotor, and unlike Astral Convertible its compositional pleasures lie more in the detail than in the arc. But it does have a serene, sometimes elegiac beauty. The dancers gradually remove their billowy white outfits to reveal bright swimwear, a bank of wind machines dispersing the cast-off costumes like shed skins. Alvin Curran’s dawdling score seeps in, swells into jazzy meanderings, fades. And the wind blows softly and steadily, like time.