Trisha Brown Dance Company

This article is from 2007.

Giant Steps

From rejection to reverement, Trisha Brown has seen it all. Kelly Apter speaks to the woman whose career began almost 50 years ago, and who is playing the Festival for the first time

One of the co-founders of the American postmodern dance movement, Trisha Brown has courted controversy right from the start. Moving to New York in 1961, she left behind her strict dance training and began experimenting with a brand new style.

‘The people I went to dance school with thought I was ruining my reputation,’ laughs Brown. ‘But I just knew we were doing the most extraordinary things, and I was the happiest person in the world. We auditioned for shows but always got turned down, because our work was not yet really understood.’

Taking up residence in Judson Memorial Church, Brown and her peers formed the Judson Dance Theater. Turning their back on conventional dance technique, they used everyday movement as the backbone of their choreography. An entire set of rules were broken, leaving the choreographers, dancers and visual artists at Judson free to invent their own way of being. Along with her contemporaries – Deborah Hay, Yvonne Rainer, Steve Paxton and Lucinda Childs among others – Brown paved the way for future generations of dance makers.

Today their work is seen by thousands at major theatres across the world. Back in the 1960s, however, finding a place to perform, let alone an audience, was a tough call. ‘It started with a couple of little theatres which we would rent for a day and a half,’ says Brown. ‘But no critics would come. They didn’t believe it was dance, and they weren’t interested in finding out what it wasn’t.’

In 1970, Brown moved away from Judson to form her own company. ‘I had my own agenda,’ she says simply. ‘And it didn’t apply to what they were doing at Judson.’ That agenda has produced some inspirational works over the years, none more so than 1983’s Set and Reset with music by Laurie Anderson, and scenic design by Robert Rauschenberg. The piece has an enduring popularity. ‘Set and Reset had legs the second it was performed,’ says Brown. ‘People were on the phone to the next venue we were going to saying “they’re coming, it’s incredible”. The piece just took off, and it’s almost always on the programme now because everyone wants it.’

Joining Set and Reset on the company’s Festival line-up is Present Tense, a poignant work with aerial choreography. ‘Present Tense is special in that September 11 happened while we were rehearsing it,’ explains Brown. ‘Which was an experience of fear, sadness and just this great sorrow. And you can fight back or you can show the tender side – and I decided that was what I wanted to show. So the piece has a lot of lifting and holding, mutual support and tenderness. And that meant a lot to me.’

At the age of 71, Brown herself may or may not make it to Edinburgh this August. Not because she’s too old to travel, but with five different projects on the go, she’s a busy woman. Her unconventional work, For MG: The Movie will also appear at the Festival this year, performed by Scottish Ballet. While all over the world, dancers and choreographers continue to create work influenced by Brown and her Judson cohorts.

It’s a legacy which Brown takes pleasure in, especially when it leads to new and exciting dance. ‘I think it’s totally great,’ she says. ‘I didn’t think there were any crumbs left on that table back at Judson, I thought we did everything. But I’m surprised by what I see today.’

Trisha Brown Dance Company, Edinburgh Playhouse, Greenside Place, 0131 473 2000, 24–26 Aug, 7.30pm, £8–£28.

Trisha Brown Dance Company

Featuring three works by different composers, this programme promises to live up to Brown's reputation for pushing boundaries in dance. Enjoy music and movement working together in 'Set and Reset,' 'Canto/Pianto' and 'Present Tense.' 'Part of the Edinburgh International Festival 2007'

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