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Trisha Brown on paper: Tribute to dancer, artist continues

Trisha Brown in her "It's a Draw/Live Feed."
Courtesy Trisha Brown Dance Company
Trisha Brown in her “It’s a Draw/Live Feed.”

Since New York choreographer Trisha Brown first started experimenting with time, space, gravity and the movement potential of the human body in the 1960s, she has never stopped astounding audiences with her intelligent, insouciant style.

Here’s a video clip of Trisha Brown’s “Present Tense.”

Even when she was a member of the Grand Union and a mover with the Judson Dance Theater — whose practitioners boldly brought everyday movement, gesture and happenstance into the realm of concert dance — Brown was independently exploring the marriage of almost mathematically based choreographic structures with the languid, liquid movement style for which she has become iconic.

One of her signature processes, known as the “Accumulation” series (a process that spiraled into all kinds of iterations performed in all sorts of places), famously premiered in 1974 in Minneapolis’ Loring Park. The work was “Group Primary Accumulation on Rafts,” which was pretty much like it sounds: Brown’s phrases of movement piled and intertwined with one another, and performed by a group of people lying on rafts in the pond.

In July, that work will be restaged as part of The Year of Trisha, a celebration created by the Walker Art Center, Northrop Dance and the University of Minnesota Dance Program. The celebration actually began last fall, when Wil Swanson and Katrina Thompson Warren, former dancers with the Trisha Brown Dance Company, taught Brown’s 1983 “Set and Reset” to U dance students.

The process involved teaching Brown’s original phrase work, then guiding students through a structured improvisational form Brown used to choreograph the original dance piece. Because the students were allowed to incorporate their own choices and interactions, the final project was actually called “Set and Reset/Reset.” In February, the students formally performed the work at the annual Dance Revolutions concert at the U.

The Year of Trisha continues this week with the opening of “So That the Audience Does Not Know Whether I Have Stopped Dancing,” an exhibition of art works by Brown at the Walker. And on Thursday evening, Brown will appear in the gallery to make one of her body drawings: large-scale works she creates using her whole body to draw with charcoal, pens or oil sticks. If you can’t make the free performance, which audiences will watch via a live feed in the Cinema, go to this link that evening.

Waking and drawing

“The drawing has a lot to do with my sleep patterns,” Brown said. “It comes from waking up in the night as a child and finding my father in the den tying flies. I got a lot of free time with papa. There is still a period of time in the night when I might wake up. So for a long time I’ve been waking up and thinking and drawing. Then I get tired and go to bed. The drawings go in a box and you forget about them. But they accrue over time.”

She also began drawing schematics for her dances on grid paper. She doesn’t consider them notation, but rather “useful to show my dancers the infrastructure of my ideas, to speed things along.” Then she sent some drawings to a Venice Biennial to which she was invited, “and word came back that everyone was talking about them, which I didn’t believe for one half of a second. I just said that’s nice. I love my dancing and choreography and I was involved in that. Decades went by.”

Trisha Brown, Untitled, 2007, charcoal, pastel on paper
Collection Trisha Brown
Trisha Brown, Untitled, 2007, charcoal, pastel on paper

One day, however, she recalled, “I thought it might be interesting to put a large piece of paper on the floor and treat it like a stage surface, and to get some charcoals and pens or whatever, put them around the edges of the paper, and I found the adrenaline rose just like it does right before I go on stage. Drawing this way became experiential for me, a state of discovery.”

Brown also discovered a new semblance of self and outlet for her creativity in these solo body drawings. “It’s an intimate practice,” she said. “There aren’t a bunch of dancers standing around snapping their leotards and plie’-ing to get warmed up. It’s my time and my way.”

What excites her most about the exhibition is that the show will span a range of work, from her completed Thursday-night drawing to “Planes,” initially created in 1968. In the multimedia work, three dancers clad in black and white slowly move across a giant pegboard against a projected film (also in black and white), conveying the impression of floating in the air. Every Thursday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., on the hour and half past, professional dancers will be paired with students from the U’s dance program in performances of the work.

The juxtaposition, Brown said, “conflates the differences between the two. One enables human beings to be the objects in the drawing. The details of the film and the actions of the dancers are the subject. The other is the result of a body drawing on flat surface. It’s summary for me. And it bridges the schism between ‘Are you a dancer, or are you a visual artist?’ People have been tangling themselves up in that question for a very long time.”

“This exhibition says it’s all one brain, part of one creative process.” And it belongs to Trisha Brown.

Events at Walker Art Center

What: “So That the Audience Does Not Know Whether I Have Stopped Dancing,” an exhibition of art works by Trisha Brown
When: Opens Friday, April 18
Where: Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
Phone: 612-375-7600
What: Exhibition preview, performance and reception
When: 7 p.m., Thursday, April 17
Tickets: Free after 6 p.m. in the Bazinet Garden Lobby
Related event: Trisha Brown: Talking Art and Dance
When: 7 p.m. April 22
Tickets: Free after 6 p.m. at the Hennepin Lobby Desk

Northrop Auditorium

What: Trisha Brown Dance Company
When: 8 p.m., April 25
Where: Northrop Auditorium, University of Minnesota
Tickets: $25-$42
Call: 612-375-7600

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