Trisha Brown Dance Company
This article is from 2007.
Pioneering choreographer Trisha Brown, whose company is performing at the Edinburgh International Festival for the first time, talks to Kelly Apter about the many and varied inspirations behind her work
In 1962, one building in New York City became the centre of the modern dance world. Artists flocked to Judson Memorial Church to produce work, and when they left, went on to influence dancers and choreographers around the world. But when I ask Trisha Brown, one of the key figures of that time, to talk about Judson Dance Theater, the 71-year-old gets a little agitated.
‘Oh god I hate talking about Judson,’ she says. ‘You do one thing that you’re stigmatised with for the rest of your life – I was 23 at the time, give me a break.’ To be fair, Brown’s career post-Judson has been so diverse and successful, harking back to the old days is understandably tedious. Despite entering her eighth decade, Brown still works at a flat-out pace, with her company about to perform at the Edinburgh International Festival for the first time.
Like most people, however, the desire to reminisce is too strong, and Brown’s reluctance to talk about Judson soon passes. What emerges about the infamous venue, however, is a very different story to the one history would have us believe. While Brown was showing groundbreaking work outdoors – such as her site-specific piece, Walking Down The Side of A Building – the folks indoors were wrapped up in their own creations.
‘Judson is a myth and a legend,’ says Brown. ‘I was making early site-specific pieces out of doors, and some people at Judson didn’t even know I was out there doing it. We used each other – if you needed a trio, you’d get three people and ask them to do it. What I did on my own had nothing to do with Judson, I had my own agenda – but that’s my story, other people were very wrapped up in Judson.’
What she will concede, however, is that before Judson, young dancers who didn’t want to conform to the ballet tradition had nowhere else to go. ‘There were no theatres in New York that would take people under 40 – end of story,’ says Brown. ‘We didn’t have alternative spaces in those days. It had to start somewhere, and it started at Judson. A gymnasium in the basement and a sanctuary in the main part of the church – and those were the places you could perform.’
However Brown feels about Judson now, without it she may never have honed her craft sufficiently to run her own company. Along with fellow Judsonites such as Yvonne Rainer, Steve Paxton and Lucinda Childs, Brown has been a major presence in the modern dance world for over 30 years. Spanning 20 years, the works being performed at the Festival, Set and Reset, Canto/Pianto and Present Tense, serve as the perfect introduction to, and overview of, her work.
Created in the aftermath of 9/11, Present Tense is filled with what Brown calls ‘mutual support and tenderness’ – a counterbalance to the ‘fear and great sorrow’ which surrounded that time. Canto/Pianto is a trimmed down version of Brown’s dance opera, L’Orfeo, set to music by Monteverdi – a popular theme throughout this year’s International Festival.
The highlight of the programme, however, has to be Set and Reset – a work held in high esteem by all the movers and shakers of the dance world. Made in 1983, with music by Laurie Anderson and set design by American experimental artist Robert Rauschenberg, the piece is on every programmer’s wish list. ‘Set and Reset is a very popular piece,’ says Brown. ‘If we haven’t been to a city before, you’ll more than likely see that on the programme – and even if we have been to that city before you’re still likely to see it, because everybody wants it.’
The work created by Brown is as challenging as it is inventive. Alongside athletic aerial work or technically complex manoeuvres, you’ll find more unusual moments, such as somebody running continuously in a circle, or standing completely still for the entire piece. A distinctive style which, when poached, sticks out a mile – much to Brown’s annoyance.
‘People should take inspiration from what they see, not steal my work,’ she says. ‘I don’t like that – and there are a few of those out there. Make your own thing instead of just copying people – I don’t copy, not even myself. An artist is supposed to create art.’
Edinburgh Playhouse, 473 2000, 24–26 Aug, 7.30pm, £8–£28.