Working on Trisha Brown’s choreography this semester has been revelatory. As a result, I’ve become more interested in exploring the connection between the mind and the body. Earlier in the process, I often felt discouraged by my seeming inability to pick up and retain the material. I couldn’t grasp the language of this work. My brain sought to “understand” the choreography in a intellectual way. I was trying to uncover the movement journey of the pieces. So often, I felt that my brain understood the dances logically but my body couldn’t digest the flow of the dances. Part of me wishes I could restart this process right now, having realized that “understanding” Trisha Brown’s work is much more of a process than I anticipated. Understanding Trisha Brown’s work comes from continuously, routinely moving the pieces, turning off the brain after a while and trusting that the work has become a part of the body.
During the final performance I remember being incredibly aware of what I was doing, trying to think about where I was going and what the next movement was. I felt distanced from the freedom that performance can inspire. When I tried to think about what I was doing, I lost the journey of the piece. In other moments, I noticed that I was focused entirely on listening to the other dancers – their breath, their impulses, the feet across the dance floor. There was a certain release or alleviation of performance pressure in those moments. I had faith that I understood how to continue moving through the piece and that I didn’t need to intellectualize the process. I didn’t need to touch the movement, but rather allowed it to carry me. Throughout the semester, I’ve learned how much I try to control movement and thoughts during a performance. But by releasing this control, a potential for a new relationship with performance is created. Rather than controlling and perfecting, one can focus on the small messages of the body. Listening to my body, as well as the bodies of my fellow performers, uncovered a new sense of communication for me, a communication that could be the spring board for the dance itself rather than just a means to create an image or stay in time. Trisha Brown’s work is incredibly precise, yet so much of it requires the dancer to relinquish control. This is an act not often practiced in the modern day. I wish I had understood this sooner. I wish I could continue to explore this work by relinquishing control and following the movement.
As we moved through the gallery spaces, indoors and outdoors, I became aware of a shift taking place in how I perceived the movement in relation to its physical space. It’s interesting to me that, while dance is theoretically one of the more three-dimensional art forms – bodies moving through physical space – the experiences that I’ve had viewing dance as an audience member have almost always been limited to a two-dimensional frame – the proscenium or the screen. In that way, movement becomes related to a photograph or painting. Dance becomes a series of images, with each image having the potential for perfection. But with Trisha Brown’s work, there is a heightened awareness of the space – depth, height, onstage, offstage. And because of this acknowledgement that the dance will breathe and transform within the physical space, I think a greater freedom for the movement can be achieved. Rather than the movement being a series of images, it becomes a journey through the space. The movement, its intention and effect, is transformed repeatedly.
When we were performing Spanish dance in the art gallery, I was struck by how sculptural the movement was. Surrounding us were ancient replicas of the human form – the torso, the face, the body – in marble and mosaic. In front of us, a piece created in the 1970s was brought to life. The small, repetitive movements of Spanish dance seemed to magnify the human body. I became aware of the specificity of each step. I was deeply struck by each dancer’s attention to her fellow dancers. Spanish dance became a piece about heightened listening, an ode to the unspoken language of the body – movement. In some way, all dance is an ode to the human body, just like the sculptures and mosaics surrounding us, illuminating the poetry of the human form.
When we moved the work outside, I noticed how the movement fit into the environment. The movement worked with the environment. The performance quality of the work seemed to fade. There a recognition of the dance as pure movement in the work of Trisha Brown. I think that acknowledgement allows this work to be intensely affected by its environment, no matter what the environment is. I could imagine Trisha Brown’s work being performed in an abandoned factory, or in the ocean at dusk, or in middle of the desert in the heat. All of these locations would inspire new relationships between the dance and the environment. This is one of the most powerful things about Trisha Brown’s work for me – the potential for transformation. The work is never finished, but evolving based upon where it is performed, who is performing it and who is watching it. Nuances are uncovered and illuminated. The experience of performing throughout the art gallery has proved to me how alive her work is and how it has the power and capability to inspire a new sense of presence in the dancers and the audience.
One of the most intriguing things that I have been discovering in the work of Trisha Brown is the “psychology” behind the movements. In these early rehearsals, grasping the choreography has been very difficult for me. I’ve realized part of this is due to the lack of music during rehearsals. Before working on these pieces, I’d never realized how much I use music as a pathway through the dance. I follow the rhythm, the progression of the melody, the shifts in tempo. The way that we have been introduced to Trisha Brown’s work, thrown into the mix of movement, has been a completely new experience, physically and psychologically. There is nothing to hold onto or hide behind. Rather, the choreography requires the utmost presence and attention to the physical body. Simutaneously, the choreography is in constant flux and endlessly specific to each dancer. I find myself constructing images in my mind that inspire the movements, naming certain sections of the dances we are learning. Certain movements correlate to deep colors and shapes, others to more ambiguous fluid images of nature or machinery. I find myself paying attention to my breath more, the angle of my head in relation to space as opposed to the angle of my head in relation to how the audience will see it. I find myself noticing the small space at the back of my neck, often crunched. The shape of the entire body is more important than the line(s) that the audience will see. In this work, each dancer interprets the movement uniquely. There is uniformity yet originality. This approach allows for an incredible sense of discovery and freedom, but only after one embraces experiencing each movement as opposed to “doing” the movement.
I became aware of this psychological leap that I was going to have to take when we began working on the Falls within the piece. I kept thinking that I would “fall” when I felt ready, when I understood the dance and the choreography. But this is not how Trisha Brown’s work exists. Hesitancy chokes the movement. The piece evolves as you move through it. No movement or step is single, it is a small part of an entire process/evolution of movement. I don’t think there is perfect way to do Trisha’s work. Or maybe there is, but perfection and “seeming” are much less important than existing fully in the movement. Presence. I have only just discovered the tip of the iceberg, I am sure. But this discovery is endlessly exciting to me. Dance is not rigid, it is a constant process of discovery. You must embrace the movement, the falls and the surprises in order to exist within the dance.