The Dance of the Pendulum

trisha brown dance company @ mca chicago, 17 april 2011.

What’s fun and wondrous about Trisha Brown’s choreography is that it is about the body’s relationship to gravity. Her gestural language treats limbs like pendulums as the dancers lift their arms, move their legs, and flop this way and that. They exhibit enormous control in letting gravity do its work, loosely yet with great force, against yet ultimately within and through their bodies. In the musicless “Opal Loop,” for instance, from 1980, four dancers swung back and forth, their muscles and bones lifting and collapsing, their torsos pushed and pulled as if by the moon’s tidal pull and, back again, by the earth’s magnetic core. In the new “Les Yeux et l’ame,” a sketch of a drawing by Brown herself, just a few black squiggles and circles, loomed in the background. They offered the barest of gestures of form in an uber-modern, almost minimalist style. But the dance, set to Jean-Philippe Rameu’s 1748 composition “Pygmalion,” was surprisingly dense, courtly, and complex. It featured eight dancers who worked closely in and around and with each other even as each individual developed distinctive movements.

Of course, one thinks of the myth of Pygmalion when watching this performance. Ovid tells us that Pygmalion fell in love with his own sculpture only to have it miraculously brought to life by Venus and Cupid. In a sense, when watching Brown’s new piece, it is tempting to say that sculpture is the starting point for dance. Or perhaps it’s the end point. Or maybe it’s the opposing same. In Trisha Brown’s choreography, that is, the still bodies of her dancers emerged as vividly and crisply as if captured in marble, yet they also continually escaped stillness and solidity, as if animated by some larger force. They corkscrewed around each other, they twisted and turned, they overlapped and departed, only to collide again. They resisted and accepted gravity in alternating currents, conversing with it, alive through Brown’s sculpted sense of channeling energies far larger than the human body’s alone.

The bodies of her dancers grew thick with time, dense and simple all at once, statuesque yet liquid, swinging back and forth in action and at ease, never in repose, but rather always reposing.

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