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Flash Review 2, 5-14: Watch the decoy
Dance & Order: Feeling Good Unit, starring Trisha Brown

By Alison D'Amato
Copyright 2009 Alison D'Amato

NEW YORK -- Trisha Brown's opening night performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music April 29 began by hypnotizing me. When Diane Madden, Tamara Riewe and Laurel Tentindo signaled the end of "Planes" (1968) by climbing down to the stage from the vertical set piece they'd been climbing on, I blinked -- perhaps for the first time since sitting down. I was reminded of that experience the other night while watching Law & Order: Cynthia Nixon was getting taken under by a crackpot psychiatrist, and just as her eyes were fluttering closed he said something like, "When I touch your shoulder you'll come back, feeling calm, refreshed and relaxed." Watching Brown's work is like that, although her magic is the real thing. I felt better somehow -- lighter and with a renewed sense of optimism -- when I walked out of the theater at the end of the night.

I'm not the only one to observe that Brown has a tendency to lull you into complacent satisfaction. Alastair Macaulay concluded his New York Times review of the BAM performance by offering a few "reservations" to temper his otherwise unconditional praise: the work is "consistently undisturbing," "unvaryingly charming," and "limited in expression, always shying away from moments that might turn into drama." I don't disagree with him, but I do wonder why Brown should be expected to generate drama or disturb us. Isn't there enough sass and fierceness to go around in the dance world? Hasn't it been 40 years since our eyes were opened to the profundity of the body showing us things without necessarily expressing things, the body that doesn't feel the need to stir up drama?

"Planes" has the distinct flavor of cool 1960s experimentalism, and the dancers get no opportunity to project emotion; they're there, in fact, to be projected upon. As they navigate that wall, gridded with holes big enough for arms and legs to pass through, the speed and quality of their movement never changes. We don't see faces, eyes or effort. But there is something about the collision of real bodies making gentle, unhurried progress and Jud Yalkut's video with its creepy shifts in perspective (we're looking at Manhattan from a helicopter, now we're lying on the ground looking up at a towering, leotard-clad woman) that compels us to keep looking, to go deeper into that trance.

The other piece on the program that brought me to that suspended, pleasantly reflection-less place was "Amour au theatre," or "the new piece," as everyone I've been talking to calls it. It's a bright, buoyant work with lots of gorgeous partnering. My favorite moments were when the group coalesced to create multi-person assemblages that supported surprising, almost kooky locomotion, like a huge gallop for a dancer who leaned so far back as to be almost lying down. Smaller, more fleeting treasures are all over the place, too -- little, heartbreaking details that make you wonder how a choreographer working on this scale could possibly find the time to break new ground with a quick, throwaway movement of the wrist. "O zlozony/O composite" (or, "the ballet piece," as everyone calls it, the work having been created on the Paris Opera Ballet) hinted at Brown's attention to detail and seemingly effortless originality, but those qualities almost hovered behind the dancing, just one step behind, shadow-like. There's probably a lot to be said about Brown's negotiation of balletic conventions and vocabularies, but I'll leave that to someone who knows more about them, and who is more comfortable with the imprint that ballet training leaves on dancing bodies.

"Glacial Decoy" was the historic "masterwork" in the program, and it should be required viewing for anyone who's ever said or thought that they don't get dance. Each movement performed in this work is exactly what it should be and exactly where it should be. Each movement is relevant to real bodies and the real world, while adding depth and richness to the pristine world of the piece. "Glacial Decoy," which is now exactly 30 years old, strikes me as important precisely because it is a virtuosic display of movement invention, exceptionally rare even among dances that cram in the jumps, lifts and high kicks. The movement itself is almost a character, engaging conversationally with Rauschenberg's set design and costumes. The iteration at BAM moved along briskly, skimming back and forth across the proscenium with the lateral shifting that constitutes the exquisite formal pleasure of the dance. (For more on "Glacial Decoy," see Paul Ben-Itzak's DI review of the Paris Opera Ballet performance.)

The company members in 'Decoy' -- Leah Morrison, Melinda Myers, Tamara Riewe, Judith Sanchez Ruiz and Laurel Tentindo -- performed it very capably, although everyone seemed to be having more fun in 'Amour.' I imagine the company members played important roles in generating and honing that work's vocabularies, and their commitment to it and to each other is palpable. It was a pleasure to perceive that, just as it was a pleasure to witness Trisha Brown's assured mastery of the form. She reminds us that that dance can do a lot of things that aren't necessarily about shock and awe. Sometimes, making us feel good is enough.

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