back to Flash Reviews
Flash Review 3, 7-3:
The Tao of Trisha
Brown's Latest Countermoves
By Byron Woods
Copyright 2000 Byron Woods
DURHAM, NC -- The deceptively
simple opening of Trisha Brown's "Groove and Countermove," which
premiered last week at the American Dance Festival, precedes a lesson
in what might be termed the Tao of jazz and dance.
The third and final section
of her jazz trilogy in collaboration with trumpeter and composer
Dave Douglas, designer Terry Winters and lighting designer Jennifer
Tipton bowed Thursday night at Page Auditorium. At first "Groove"
seemed a somewhat subdued denouement to the opening kinetics of
"Five Part Weather Invention," commissioned by the Jacob's Pillow
Dance Festival, and the retro-cool of "Rapture to Leon James," which
premiered earlier this season at Kennedy Center. That's before it
turned into a primer on why we do any of this work in the first
place: make dance, enact it, or enjoy it as an audience.
The combined chaos and
control of Winters's backdrop, a gridded black and white line drawing,
seemed to superimpose flight patterns on a page of blank sheet music.
So did the dance which followed in "Five Part Weather Invention."
The shadows of dancers backlit against this visual begged the question
of the clef and keys in which they danced. Later, dancers dressed
in primary colors shadowed one another in sequences that seemed
one part modern dance, one part basketball: at points we less expected
these doubles to lift their partner than to block their shot.
Later, the colorful corps
of nine sequentially echoed the frisky hand, leg and body articulations
of changing leaders, an obvious and dazzling homage to photographer
Edward Muybridge's famous human motion studies. The exuberance of
a group in complex play -- the most imaginative version of follow
the leader we'll likely ever see -- was nothing less than infectious.
Diane Madden's solo section,
separating the first and second movements, invoked a tesseract --
the simultaneous exploration of all space surrounding the dancer.
Given the choreographer's observation that "weather begins where
the skin ends," the passionate movement carried forth the inquiry
of the first set, under different circumstances.
Bop hymnody was the watchword
for "Rapture," an inventive tribute to legendary Lindy dancer Leon
James. Douglas's six-piece band alternated between bossa nova, bebop
and escapee orchestrations from 1950s animated cartoons. Meanwhile,
two women in black and white provided a frame which opened, squeezed,
and ultimately closed two contrasting pictures of 1940s and early
Tipton's lights and Winters's
costumes replicated the retro kitsch that once graced the covers
of old Xaviar Cugat albums, as small groups tripped an altered light
fantastic. The corps ultimately forsook that 1950s rec room for
a celebratory chorus line, where dancers quoted soft shoe and tap
moves, with hands held up to testify, before the more aerial maneuvers
born of the Lindy hop began. Afterwards, a nonette in rows of three
sidled against one another as varying groups took their turn in
front, reveling in proximity and close contact.
But the lessons of the
third movement tie the first two together. Its slower, sparser,
simpler moves color a second backdrop of 16 line drawings -- a notebook
or musical score of order and chaos which, for all its diversity,
remains strikingly monochromatic. The axial weather dances and prismatic
motion studies of the initial movement come back again, but slower,
in even starker, more deliberate contrast to the unchanging backdrop,
as if to underline a point.
In this culminating "Groove,"
Brown seems to be saying that the jazz -- and the dance, for that
matter -- is not what's on the paper, the computer screen, the video
or the compact disc. It exists only in the people making or experiencing
it; living in each of us only in the moments we engage in it. The
visuals -- a music score, a movement sketch, even possibly a dance
review -- may be instructive, but at best they still only point
the way. They're not the thing itself. It isn't dance until you
give it breath, and make it move. It isn't jazz until you do it.
A Taoist bebop teaching,
by a world-class choreographer and composer -- one well worth the
For more on Trisha Brown,
see Tom Patrick's Flash Review 1, 5-3: A Dream-Upon-Awakening,
and Ben Munisteri's Flash Review 5-10, Designing
Woman. The first is accompanied by a video clip.
back to Flash Reviews