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Letter from New York #1, 4-25: Somewhere Past the Rainbow
Lessons in Color from Our Mr. Brooks

By Chris Dohse
Copyright 2008 Chris Dohse
Photography by Julie Lemberger

NEW YORK -- I trust color. Nothing in it lies. Brian Brooks has built the first leg of what promises to be a long and rich career from isolating fistfuls of Crayola hues into evenings of delight, surprise and physical daring.

The 10th anniversary season of Brian Brooks Moving Company, simply called "10 Year Retrospective" and seen March 15 at the Ailey Citigroup Theater as part of the 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Festival, was divided into two parts. The first act folded together excerpts from "Faster!" (2001; orange), "Dance-o-Matic" (2002; pink), "Acre" (2004; green), "Pinata" (2005; black and white) and "Again Again" (2006; tan). Act two premiered a working version of "Happy Lucky Sun."

In a nutshell, the barrage of excerpts failed to capture the bratty sense of fun that I felt when seeing two of the evenings in their entirety. (I reviewed "Faster" and "Dance-o-Matic" for this journal.) In these early works, Brooks had the balls (and the boas) to carve a unique position: sexy, saucy, deadpan, and pomo. Careened into each other, the fragments of a decade didn't quite communicate this glee, and seemed garish artifacts.

The audience sat in banks of risers on three sides of the cavernous space and blow-up pool-toy chairs scattered around the playing floor; the action happened among and almost on top of the ones of us who chose these precarious, uncomfortable, scooching and farting inflatables. Craning our heads (from my vantage point, for "Acre") and sometimes being too far away from Brooks's nuggets was just a little too much work. Burke Wilmore's lighting design shrouded one corner into murk, so that "10 Hands," an excerpt from "Pinata"-- which tested some kind of minimalist patience with its amaranthine isolations of the arms and hands, performed to Ravel's "Bolero" -- became a muddy blur.

Brandin Steffenson holds Jo-Anne Lee and Brian Brooks holds Weena Pauly in the Brian Brooks Moving Company's production of Brooks's "Again Again." Julie Lemberger photo copyright Julie Lemberger and courtesy 92nd Street Y.

Brooks danced with Elizabeth Streb for three years and his work subverts her stripped-to-mathematics technique. So being too close to other of these gymnastic and quite incredible feats of strength and timing ("Again Again") caused a sort of anxiety. Are they going to crash into me? Over me? Into the walls? As it turns out, yes. This section was built from dancers running at and throwing themselves at a wall. A male duet sequence transcended the muscular and became Greco-Roman intimacy. But then I'm a sucker for that sort of thing.

Watching this work without traditional separation, I found myself contemplating effort. Since it was framed as a retrospective, I thought about the effort it takes to keep making work, finding gigs, scheduling rehearsals, being your own business manager, artistic director, etcetera, and of how draining it is for choreographers and what a true milestone it is for Brooks or anyone to produce a body of work of this magnitude and duration. Of that I am in awe (and it's like, awesome).

And contemplating the visible effort in the human body that is Brooks's primary source material, how his gobsmacking dancers make it look effortless. In Streb's work, the dancers look like automatons, results of an assembly line. But Brooks, Jo-anne Lee, Weena Pauly, Edward Rice, Brandin Steffensen and Aaron Walter soar into iconic realms of heroism. A duet for Brooks and Lee, where she walked a long trajectory while placing each instep on parts of his body, she never faltering and he rolling, crouching and kneeling to facilitate her, dropped my jaw.

The new "Happy Lucky Sun" promised a complicated bowl of yum-yums. It's dressed in gray for one thing. Brooks began with a long solo in which he moved more fluidly, more internally, than his usual rarified but everyday, gestural material. There are more curves in his body now and more release, and a deeper humanity. When the company joined him for razor-sharp lifts that torqued and dived like fish nipping each other's fins, the effect both raced my heart and moved it. I'm eager to see the next chapter for Brian Brooks.

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