Trisha Brown Company Enlivens Fairmount Park

Trisha Brown Company

by Jane Fries for The Dance Journal

The Trisha Brown Dance Company is carrying on without its founder, who retired from making new dances in 2013 and lamentably passed away in 2017. Brown was arguably the most crowd-pleasing of the postmodern choreographers who started out in New York in the 1960s. Her early work often explored nonconventional spaces, although she became best-known for her later large-scale pieces for the proscenium stage. Her company performed samplings of both types of dances during the final week of September 2019, in three different locations in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park. The captivating series, titled “In Motion, In Place,” was presented by the Fairmount Park Conservancy, and was amicably free to the public.

In Roof Piece (1971), eight dancers were perched atop buildings surrounding Logan Circle. Wearing bright red pants and shirts, they stood out against the sky and other tall buildings. They were arranged in somewhat of a line, and the dancer in front generated movements that were transmitted rooftop to rooftop – with each subsequent dancer attempting to pick up and execute as much detail as possible. Part of the fun was watching how some unsuspecting pedestrians became curious when they spotted one of the dancers, then noticed that there were more dancers, and were, at last, delighted when they recognized the game of “telephone” playing out high above.

The Strawberry Mansion Reservoir provided a tranquil setting for Raft Piece (1974), which featured four women dancers lying on their backs on floating rafts. The century-old abandoned reservoir has become a wildlife sanctuary and opened to the public only last year.  Dressed all in white, the dancers gently rearranged their limbs – raising and lowering arms and legs. A light wind became the prime mover, blowing two of the rafts far down the lake by the end of the piece. It was hard to see the details of the dancers’ supine motions, but they impressively maintained their unified timing even as the rafts drifted further and further apart.

Foray Forêt (1990) took place on an outdoor stage behind the historic Mount Pleasant Mansion.

The company’s nine dancers resembled critters of the forest, blending into the backdrop of dense trees in muted green, brown, and gold foil costumes (designed by Brown’s frequent collaborator Robert Rauschenberg). Giving in to gravity, the dancers allowed their movements to flow with ease, often seeming to skim across the stage. They took their cues from one another – the bump of a hip passed the momentum from dancer to dancer. Musical accompaniment for the piece was provided by a local marching band, who was heard but not seen. They approached from a distance, with the sound growing louder, and then circled around the audience and behind the stage. The musicians serenaded the audience as they departed from the performance.

The Trisha Brown Company dancers included Oluwadamilare Ayorinde, Cecily Campbell, Kimberly Fulmer, Leah Ives, Amanda Kmett’Pendry, Kyle Marshall, Patrick McGrath, Stuart Shugg, and Jacob Storer. They are ably upholding Brown’s legacy, much to the benefit of audiences who continue to respond to the kinesthetic thrill of her dances.

About Jane Fries

Originally from the west coast, Jane Fries pursued undergraduate studies in dance at San Diego State University, where she got her start writing about dance for the student newspaper. After an escapade as a correspondent for Dance Magazine in the south of France, she went on to earn her MA in dance from Mills College in Oakland, California. Jane's subsequent explorations in non-theatrical dance forms led her to take up the practice of yoga. She has lived in the Philadelphia area since 1996, and has had the great pleasure to study Iyengar yoga with Joan White. Jane's writing reflects her background in dance history and interest in documentation and preservation.

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