Leah Morrison in Trisha Brown's If You Couldn't See Me, in which the soloist never faces the audience (photo by Julia Cervantes, courtesy Trisha Brown Dance Company)

Mastering Trisha Brown's Postmodern Dance Style

Postmodern pioneer Trisha Brown redefined how dance is seen and felt. A founding member of Judson Dance Theater, Brown frequently collaborated with other experimental artists like Yvonne Rainer, Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, and Steve Paxton.

She embraced pedestrian movement, pairing everyday gesture with rhythm and fluidity. "It's liquid," says Wendy Perron, who danced with Brown in the '60s and '70s. "Like a river with many tributaries, water coming out of a faucet, or being on a raft and seeing the water move away in different directions." Brown also pushed beyond stages with choreography in fields, museums—even on the sides of buildings.


Brown passed away last March, but the Trisha Brown Dance Company, founded in 1970, continues performing worldwide. "There's no official Trisha Brown technique," says current company member Cecily Campbell, "but there are whispers and flavors of her work all over the place." If you've ever happened upon choreography that doesn't necessarily mirror the music, with released yet controlled limb movements, sudden rushes of energy, and humorous elements, you've seen firsthand the widespread influence of Brown's work on the dance community.

You'll likely encounter Brown's style—and maybe even her choreography—in college and beyond, as former TBDC company members include dance-world heavyweights like Stephen Petronio and Vicky Schick. DS asked the experts what it's like to dance Trisha Brown's work, and why her brand of fast-paced fluidity continues to captivate.

Cecily Campbell in Brown's "Primary Accumulation" (photo by Hal Horowitz, courtesy TBDC)

The Movement

Brown's early movement style was very logical. "She would focus on the simple mechanics of how your arm bends, then intersperse choreography with an everyday life gesture," Perron says. "She would try to shed the drama in movement. Not like Martha Graham's emotional contraction and release—just dance as a thing that happens."

The result is complex, yet simple. A leg reaches out and the body leans, an impulse suddenly spins into a torque of the spine, arms are flung and the torso undulates, then everything pauses for a slight flick of a wrist. "There's dialogue between natural, clear ways of moving and extraordinary surprises in the physicality and structure," Campbell says.

Leah Morrison, who joined TBDC in 2005, was attracted to the style because "it tends to feel good. There's an improvisational spirit—we hang on to spontaneity, even as we're getting into precise details." This spirit is featured in one of Brown's most iconic works, Set and Reset, which premiered in 1983. With a score by Laurie Anderson and a set by Robert Rauschenberg, it's a layered feast of seemingly improvised movements that are actually set (and reset).

Trisha Brown in 2018

There's no company class or warm-up routine before rehearsal at TBDC. "Everyone finds their own approach to warming up for the work," Campbell says. "We're responsible for figuring that out ourselves, and it does change depending on the piece." Campbell says the full body has to be ready to move quickly: "That's important for the quirky, unexpected physical pathways Trisha loved." In addition to bones and muscles, Campbell warms up another key feature: "Because Trisha's eyes and mind were so alert and interested in putting many layers at play, I find it helpful to make sure my eyes are seeing in a detailed, clear way."

You can find Trisha Brown–style classes all over these days, though class structure shifts depending on the teacher. When Morrison teaches, "I focus on the bones and making sure students have underlying support for movements that can be free, fluid, and flung." Morrison says what's taught in a Trisha Brown class can apply to other dance styles, but also that because of the work's pedestrian nature, "you can take a Trisha Brown class and then practice what you learn as you're walking, going to the gym, or playing frisbee."

With Brown's passing, her work lives through TBDC, and through past company members teaching and making their own choreography. "I hold the movement in my body. I feel honored to have worked with her directly," Morrison says. Campbell feels she can access Brown by performing the work. "We're fortunate she imbued this work with herself, with such strong spirit. She gave us places to find her inside."


A version of this story appeared in the January 2018 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "Dancing Trisha Brown."

Latest Posts


Photo by Jayme Thornton

How Paloma Garcia-Lee Manifested Her Dream Role, in Steven Spielberg’s "West Side Story"

On a rainy day in November 2018, Paloma Garcia-Lee got a call from her agent that brought her to her knees outside her New York City apartment: She was going to play Graziella in Steven Spielberg's West Side Story.

The call came after a lengthy audition process with Spielberg in the room, and the role, originated by Wilma Curley on Broadway in 1957 and later portrayed by Gina Trikonis in the 1961 film, was her biggest dream. In fact, it's something Garcia-Lee says she manifested from the day plans for the movie were announced in January 2018. "I wrote in my journal: 'I am playing Graziella in Steven Spielberg's West Side Story.'"

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Photo by @mediabyZ

Am I Less Committed to Dance Because I Have Other Passions? (Spoiler Alert: NO!)

Let's face it—dance is HARD, and in order to achieve your goals, you need to be committed to your training. "Still, there's a fine line between being committed and being consumed." Dancers can, and should, have interests outside of the studio.

Not convinced? We talked with dance psychologist Dr. Lucie Clements and two multifaceted dancers, Kristen Harlow (a musical theater dancer pursuing a career in NYC and Kentucky) and Kallie Takahashi (a dancer in her final year at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts), and got the inside scoop on how having hobbies outside of dance can inform your artistry, expand your range and help prevent burnout.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Photo courtesy of Brittany Conigatti

Go Behind the Scenes of Annie Live! With Brittany Conigatti

Unwrap your candy canes, pour the hot chocolate and round up your fellow theater lovers: NBC is kicking off the Christmas season with its latest live-broadcast TV musical. Annie Live! premieres December 2 and features a star-studded cast, including Harry Connick Jr., Tituss Burgess, Megan Hilty and, as the title character, young phenom Celina Smith.

Luckily, people got a taste of what the special will entail when the cast kicked off the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with a performance last week. But since you’re never fully dressed without a Dance Spirit exclusive, we caught up with Brittany Conigatti, one of the young orphans and adult ensemble members in the show, to learn what it was like putting together a large-scale live production for the small screen.

The cast of Annie Live! poses for a group photo. The cast of Annie Live!Photo courtesy of Conigatti


Keep Reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks

contest
Enter the Cover Model Search