The original plan, choreographer Trisha Brown says, was that she would get married and have four children, just like her mom.
"Then the world changed," says Brown. "It was the '60s. We had women's liberation. We had a liberation in art. I found myself and my students teetering on the fulcrum between what was expected and what we were doing."
After helping to turn the dance world upside down during that decade as part of the experimental Judson Dance Theater, Brown founded her own company in 1970. Now, as the Trisha Brown Dance Company celebrates its 35th anniversary, the choreographer says that she's pleasantly surprised to see how far she's come.
"I didn't know this would be a long-term thing," she says. "I didn't know what to expect when I started. I had some very good people to work with and I had some ideas that I wanted to try. It was that simple."
From her earliest works, Brown's oeuvre has been the essence of experimentation. The 1970s saw her dancers positioned on rooftops across the city; they climbed walls and clambered down posts. Over the years, another feature in her dance pieces became the use of a single, simple gesture that built to an increasingly complex movement phrase. Entrances and exits, order, balance, and even dancing on the edges of the proscenium have been hallmarks of Brown's works over the years.
"Now, I think I'm a little farther along than I imagined I ever would be," she reports. "I'm in an exciting place, creatively, with all of the cross-disciplinary and cross-genre work I'm doing in classical music, classical dance, visual art. Those are giant leaps from one genre to another. And I'm just really enjoying myself."
The company's April performances for Lincoln Center's Great Performers, as part of the New Visions series, will include early classics as well as two New York premieres that reflect the choreographer's more recent explorations.
Program A (on April 13 and 15) features three seminal works from her collaborations with the artist Robert Rauschenberg: Glacial Decoy, from 1979; Astral Convertible (to music of John Cage), from 1989; and Set and Reset (to music by Laurie Anderson), the 1983 work that brought Brown international renown and became part of her first major cycle of work‹Unstable Molecular Structures.
Program B (on April 14 and 16) focuses on Brown's more recent projects: Geometry of Quiet from 2003, the music for which will be performed by flutist Mario Caroli; and the New York premieres of Present Tense with pianist Pedja Muzijevic and how long does the subject linger on the edge of the volume... with music by Curtis Bahn.
The latter piece, which receives its world premiere at the University of Arizona just days before the company comes to Lincoln Center, is part of an ongoing computer photography project with Arizona State University's Institute for Studies in the Arts. The project has dancers working with a team of experimental artists, composers, and computer engineers to create dance works that use motion-capture technology.
Brown says that choosing works for the 35th anniversary was a bit more complex than it is for a typical season. But, she explains, some elements are a natural fit for the occasion, such as the program highlighting Brown's work with Rauschenberg.
"Bob and I are joined at the hip. I had known him for a long time before we ever started working together," she says. "When I first moved into a proscenium theater, I needed to deal with the blackness of that black box and how to light it and make it work for me. I had been in theaters in Europe, but in New York I had been performing in museums and galleries and on roofs and sides of buildings. Bob was the master of all of these subjects I felt I needed but didn't know much about‹like sets and lighting. I needed someone to guide me on that and I trusted him. We just had this uncanny telepathic way of communicating."
There's something about working with collaborators, according to Brown, that taps into her yen for taking risks. "To me, it's a dialogue, when you're working with your collaborators," she says. "You're stepping into the unknown together. But it's not always an easy process. That's why I tend to pick people I know well. If we get into a disagreement we can figure it out and not get into some legendary disagreement. I don't have the time or the energy for a feud."
Then Brown laughs. "I'm probably going to have so many new friends now, once it gets out that I choose my collaborators from my friends," she says. "Oh well. Go ahead. I can handle it."
Besides, Brown notes, these days her focus is on taking risks in entirely different directions, such as her staging of music and operatic works, including Carmen, M.O., and Monteverdi's L'Orfeo. The 2001 Lincoln Center Festival presented the U.S. premiere of Brown's staging of Salvatore Sciarrino's opera Luci mie traditrici. And in 2002, the New Visions series presented the world premiere of her staging of Schubert's song cycle Winterreise.
Brown says that her years of creating works without music prepared her for those critically acclaimed projects. "Silence was one of the biggest teachers in my life. You have to use other sensory systems than music in conjunction with the dancing.
"I learned to look at my choreography very, very well," she continues, "and to understand what augments the movement and what cancels it. I was thinking about music all the time, but I was not using it. When I got involved in classical music, I found those structures were often things I had come upon on my own. I felt very much at home."
Brown notes that her taste for risk-taking also continues to be satisfied through her forays into visual art. Several museums and galleries have had exhibitions of her drawings.
"That's adventurous to me in a totally different way," she says. "Some of my drawings are like dancing to me. It's like improvisation in movement."
Not that Brown plans on leaving her movement explorations behind. "Oh no. I want always to be making choreography," she replies before ticking off a list of upcoming projects. "I'm having a great time right now and I love it. I'm in a great place."
Karyn D. Collins is a features writer and dance critic for the Asbury Park Press in Neptune, New Jersey.