As in ancient Delphi, the streets and temples were full of devotees massing to witness Apollo’s pronouncements through his high priestess. Today’s oracle is Trisha Brown and we are at London’s Dance Umbrella for a long weekend of events to mark 40 years since this postmodern choreographer founded her eponymous company. A repertory evening provided four sample works.
You Can See Us (1996) is a mirror duet drawn from a solo, If You Couldn’t See Me, in which Brown performed entirely with her back to the audience. Performed to 10 minutes of an electronic “sound score” and here by two white-clad members of her company on a bare stage, her trademark movements were immediately apparent: a loose, swinging quality, lunges and bends of the torso and open, curving arms. But our eyes were inexorably drawn to the performer who faced us, so the work’s “big idea” was fatally diminished: the simultaneous sight of movements from both front and back was far less interesting than one would have imagined. The oracle’s message was unclear.
Glacial Decoy (1979) presents four women in gauzy muslin smocks, performing to an ever-changing slideshow of superlative yet uncredited monochrome photographs of small-town America projected on four screens. In Brown’s first essay in proscenium choreography (the stage has a back and a front), she plays with entrances and exits; the wings are visible, and the dancers move into the performance space to execute riffs of movement. The piece’s 18 minutes of silence outstayed their welcome.
L’Amour au Théâtre is brand new, created last year, and decidedly mainstream. Set for six dancers and to recorded excerpts from Rameau’s Hippolyte et Aricie, it shows Brown allowing humour into her work and demonstrating both a flair for intriguing partnering based on counterbalance, and a sculptural quality in her groupings. Not as lighthearted or as literal as Mark Morris, she nevertheless allows her choreography to be structured by the music. One felt close to understanding its meaning.
Opal Loop/Cloud Installation #72503 (1980) is vintage Brown: a miasma of stage smoke acts as a backdrop to four dancers clad in either body-stockings or pyjamas and performing separately to silence. The first in Brown’s Unstable Molecular Structure series, it is impenetrable, and serves to cloak the high priestess once again in her cloud of mystery, the oracle’s secret unrevealed. () www.dance