By Siobhan Burke
16 September 2020
In a video recorded in 1989, the choreographer Trisha Brown demonstrates a few restless seconds of movement, as dancers in her studio try to follow along. An arm darts across the torso; the legs appear to slip and catch themselves. It happens fast. As the dancers attempt to do as she does, a viewer can imagine how useful the video would be for anyone learning this material. There’s no easy way to explain what she’s doing; you just have to keep watching.
In her decades of dazzling experiments with the body, gravity and momentum, Brown invented movement so complex — so capricious yet precise — it could be hard to remember from one day to the next, let alone years later if the work were to live on. As if to keep tabs on her discoveries, the camera became a regular presence in her studio, a tool as pragmatic as her choreography was wild. By recording the building of a dance, she could revisit what had rushed forth in a solo improvisation, or retrace how a group of dancers had achieved an improbable lift.
“Her movement is so sequential, and there’s a whole logic for how it spills through the body,” said Cori Olinghouse, a former dancer with Brown’s company, who served as its archive director from 2009 to 2018. “I think recording it was a way to try to recover something of that logic when nobody could remember.”
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