Retrospective of a legend
BECKET - What becomes a legend most? The choreographer Trisha Brown, whose namesake company is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, has seen trends and movements come and go, and she has often been at the forefront of radical experimentation in the postmodern dance world. At Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, a program of four dances now offers a sort of retrospective, showing that Brown stands the test of time.
The newest work, “Les Yeux et l’âme,’’ is a compilation of lovely dances culled from Brown’s recent staging of the opera “Pygmalion.’’ In her earlier years Brown often rejected the use of music in her dances. Yet look how keenly attuned the movements are with Jean-Philippe Rameau’s now tranquil, now gently boisterous score. In pale, flowing costumes, the dancers’ turns and lifts unfold luxuriously as they move with a loose, almost lazily rolling quality.
In Brown’s famously “pedestrian’’ movement style, knees rarely extend fully, and feet may or may not stretch. We don’t see the usual synergy that begins at a dancer’s core and extends through the limbs. Jumps are often executed with a weightiness that verges on the leaden; while the dancers don’t look like they’re straining, it can feel exhausting to watch them.
In “Yeux’’ this heaviness is fortunately kept to a minimum; indeed, though pretty, occasionally the piece threatens to roll to a stop for want of dynamism. Mostly, however, the stately pace works like a balm. The dancers seem dreamily adrift, over the rainbow, perhaps. Once a woman is lifted by her outstretched arms, and she skitters across a line of curved-over backs, looking like a butterfly flitting over a field of flowers.
In the 1990 “Foray Forêt,’’ a recording of a marching band is played at different volumes and through different speakers, while dancers move in strange fits and starts across the stage. Choreographic motifs and mildly pantomimic gestures repeat without really advancing. However, the solo at the end - danced by Leah Morrison with the beautifully supple stealth of a cat on the prowl - is wonderful, a gorgeous mystery that deepens as Morrison’s fellow dancers dart in and out of the wings like peripheral memories, only a hand, or a bottom, or a foot sticking out here and there.
The earliest piece on the program, the 1973 “Spanish Dance,’’ is more an amuse-bouche than a dance, but it’s impossible to resist the coyly simple charm of five women who, accompanied by Bob Dylan’s plaintive resolve, sashay, shuffle, and spoon into a caterpillar sisterhood.
Though the parts that make up Brown’s 1983 “Set and Reset’’ are intriguing, the whole seems overwhelmed by its star-studded parts. Set to a Laurie Anderson score that layers synthesized organ sounds punctuated by a ceaseless clang, the dancers move with a casual restlessness, while random black-and-white footage is projected onto Robert Rauschenberg’s geometric set hanging from above. One’s eyes dart fruitlessly from the dancers to the projections, but the elements ultimately compete, rather than complement.
Though I hesitate to admit such a lukewarm response to the work of a giant like Brown, it is precisely because of her caliber and history that I can. She still looms magnificently.
Janine Parker can be reached at email@example.com.