January 31, 2013 5:53 pm

Trisha Brown: Last Dances, Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York

The sunny faith in the body that runs through Brown’s work tempers the ache of loss in her final works
Tamara Riewe, Nicholas Strafaccia, Jamie Scott, and Samuel Wentz, Members of the Trisha Brown Dance Company perform©Stephanie Berger

'Les Yeux et l’âme'

In Trisha Brown’s 1966 solo Homemade, a home-movie projector is strapped to the dancer’s back. Originally Brown, then Baryshnikov and now luscious company alum Vicky Shick sketches out the movement equivalent of home-movie commonplaces. Shick bounds into a puddle, both feet first, sways on tip-toe like one of Ali Baba’s wives, and so on. We assume the grainy film – projected wherever Shick’s back directs it, sometimes out of sight – is a live feed until the celluloid Shick beats the woman onstage to a task. If the live figure is rehearsing her past, the documentary foretells the past’s future. The momentary time-scramble does not simply disorient, it causes the playfully conceptual Homemade to thrum suddenly with loss.

The whole charged two-hour show has that effect. A couple of years ago, the 76-year-old choreographer suffered strokes that affected her memory. What would have been her latest dances have become, heartbreakingly, her last.

And yet the sunny faith in the body that runs through her work tempers the ache. It is hard to imagine a Pygmalion, for example, without abuse of power figuring somehow. The statue comes to life to satisfy its creator’s narcissism. According to the Rameau libretto, the once-stone woman’s “first desire is to please” Pygmalion. Brown’s 2011 Les Yeux et l’âme (“Eyes and the Soul”), however, imagines a perfectly balanced love. Whatever Rameau’s drastic shifts in metre, the dancers move only as fast as gravity and their scaffolding of bones permit. For Brown, the bones are eyes and soul. They know and reveal all.

The last dance dismantles the skeleton, as the title, I’m going to toss my arms – if you catch them they’re yours, suggests. Toss my arms begins with the eight performers threaded among industrial-sized fans shunted to the right. Under shafts of pale light the whirring air whisks the dancers into open space, stripping off their outer layers. The dancers collapse to the floor like jigsaw pieces.

“Now I’m just going to kick off my hands and make myself comfortable,” Brown wrote in early notes for the 2011 work. “And you just take me and put me somewhere.” For the many treasured dances she has left us, let it be somewhere safe and sound.

Until February 2, www.bam.org

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