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Jack Anderson

Trisha Brown: The World Beyond the Wings

Trisha Brown Dance Company
Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue at 19th Street, Chelsea
February 5-10, 2008
Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 and 7 p.m.,$35
Tickets: (212) 242-0800 or www.joyce.org
Reviewed by Jack Anderson, February 8, 2008

Often, when actors or dancers step offstage, we may feel they temporarily cease to exist by being out of sight and out of mind until the plot or the choreography necessitates their return. But in some of Trisha Brown's programs, including this one, she creates the curious impression that when her dancers vanish from our view they may still be moving before other people somewhere else: other worlds are waiting in the wings.

In "Foray Forêt," the first revival since 1994 of a piece from 1990, dancers are first beheld in shadow, twisting and turning. As lights brighten and they continue twisting in shiny gold costumes by Robert Rauschenberg, the choreography emphasizes the fluid upper-body movements for which Brown is known.

Members of the cast of ten keep leaving and returning. But when they leave, the sense of movement does not stop, for the wings appear to be portals to offstage locales, perhaps in the forest referred to in Brown's punning title. Near the conclusion, Brown provides tantalizing hints of other places by showing dancers dimly visible in the wings with only an arm or a leg protruding into the stage space.

Her use of music intensifies this impression of multiple realms. Band music is dimly heard, and the band, though out of sight, keeps marching in and out of hearing. It's the Columbia University Marching Band playing music by John Philip Sousa while parading outside the Joyce Theater's auditorium. Brown reminds us that there's a world beyond the stage. Dispensing with plot and characterization, Brown's dances can certainly be called abstract; yet they can also be termed realistic. For all their formal complexity, her productions are not hermetically sealed aesthetic entities.

That became especially evident on Feb. 5, her company's opening night, for this was the night of the Primary Election, and listening to band music then recalled accounts of long-ago American election nights, which could frequently be revels filled with boisterous band music. A fascinated Charles Ives wrote marching band festivities into some of his symphonic scores. And the artists of America's pioneering "Ashcan School" enjoyed depicting public celebrations, including those shown in "Life's Pleasures," a fine exhibition of their work this winter at the New-York Historical Society. But enough of such rambling observations! If nothing else, they indicate how Brown's choreographic foray can amass much mental plunder.

"I Love My Robots," her latest creation, can inspire audiences to go off on their own mental routes of free association. The movements for an ensemble of seven in this gently topical dialogue between humanity and technology once again emphasize bends and curves. And the accompaniment is a taped score by Laurie Anderson that includes not only chorale-like melodies and lightly percussive sounds, but also chiming bells and barking dogs.

Dancers come and go, sometimes by themselves, sometimes embracing one another, sometimes gathering into sculptural formations. On stage with them are two tall spindly poles attached to little blocks. They prove to be robots by Kenjiro Okazaki that scuttle among the dancers with endearing awkwardness. Whereas the production's lithe humans bend in many supple ways, the most the robots can do is wiggle a bit: after all, they're just big sticks. Provided that humans do not misuse them or the technology that produced them, these robots will certainly not run amok and take over the world.

When the dance appears ready to end, an almost invisible figure inches across the darkness at the back of the stage. It proves to be Brown herself, who comes downstage into light, moving around the robots, gently touching them and regarding them with affection, as if they were pets or children. She even asks one, "How old are you?" And when the dance is just about over she wistfully says, "See you tomorrow," a conclusion both comic and poignant. Robots, Brown implies, are our creations, they are in our care and, like other things in this world, deserve to be cared-for.

Because Brown has announced her retirement from the stage, one expected she might bid farewell in "If You Couldn't See Me," her spellbinding solo of 1994 in which a woman, presumably on some sort of journey, keeps herself turned away from the audience and never lets us behold her face, thereby making the action look unusually mysterious. Instead, Brown gave that solo to Leah Morrison.

Morrison commanded attention with the strength of her back. Yet she has not yet acquired Brown's quiet power. Whereas Morrison suggested that this woman was on an errand, Brown always seemed to be on a quest taking her far beyond the stage.


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