UMS Night School: Curious About Dance – Session 3 Recap
Presenting: The Trisha Brownie Dance Company
After a whirlwind week of dance, we had plenty to discuss during our latest Night School session. We had two special treats on Monday evening: the first was the opportunity to hear Clare Croft, our trusty Night School leader, speak with Jim Leija, UMS Director of Education & Community Engagement, about her new book, Dancers as Diplomats: American Choreography in Cultural Exchange. The second treat, of course, came in the form of cupcakes, which we enjoyed after the discussion. Before we crossed overseas to learn about dance’s contribution to cultural diplomacy, we focused on some exciting moments in American dance, with a reflection on last week’s performances of Confetti Sunrise and the Trisha Brown Dance Company.
Professor Amy Chavasse invites us into the world of Trisha Brown
We were joined on Monday evening by U-M Associate Professor of Dance Amy Chavasse, who guided us through some physicality unique to Trisha Brown. Trisha emphasized the idea of “pure movement” in her work: movement based on mechanical body actions such as bending, straightening, or rotating: stripped of any metaphor or connotation. Trisha built on this essential, pure movement to create the much of the porous, fluid, and surprising choreography we saw this weekend. Amy helped us understand these sensations by inviting us to create and erase edges; set up expectations only to veer in a different direction; and produce gestures that hold specific meaning to us, but appear abstract to the outside eye.
Exploring Trisha Brown’s notion of “pure movement”
I think it is safe to say that after this movement workshop, we are all ready to fly to New York and dance for Trisha Brown. Alas, we had to save our debut as the Trisha Brownie Dance Company (thank you, Charles, for coining the name!) for another day, because there was too much to talk about here in Ann Arbor! We began a rich conversation about this weekend’s performance, acknowledging the elements we saw on the program (costumes, lights, set pieces) as entry points into the dances’ worlds. We also made a nice connection between Trisha Brown, Confetti Sunrise, and the workshop that Anna Martine Whitehead led for us during our last Night School session: thinking about gesture as a mechanism for developing movement and meaning. As we discussed the moments of delight, curiosity, and even discomfort we found in all of the works we watched over the week, we asked ourselves: What are we supposed to care about when watching dance? What do we bring to each performance that may influence our interpretations? How does time collapse and expand as we view performance that holds its own chronology in dance history, as well as in our own experiences?
Clare and Jim discuss Dancers as Diplomats: American Choreography in Cultural Exchange
Each week, I am excited by the ways our interpretations of specific performance works lead to larger discussions about what it means to view and discuss dance. Though we usually approach this broader conversation through performance analysis, this week we were lucky enough to explore ideas behind dance scholarship through Clare’s research on diplomacy in American dance. Her book, which you can buy from UMS for only $20 (excuse my shameless plug!), chronicles dancers’ perspectives of government-sponsored international tours by American dance companies during the early decades of the Cold War and twenty-first century. During the last half of Night School, Clare and Jim sat down to talk about Dancers as Diplomats, divulge some details behind the stories in the book, and answer our questions about the topic.
U-M Department of Dance faculty and students smile with Clare after a conversation about Dancers as Diplomats
Night School students Rebecca and Sam (photo on left) and Ed and Harvey posing with cupcakes and newly purchased copies of Clare’s book!
We have the perfect opportunity to crack this book open, as next week we are off for mid-winter (I just can’t bring myself to say spring) break. I’ll be in Las Vegas, and I have to say I’m more excited about my Cirque du Soleil tickets than I am about the casinos. I guess you can take the girl out of Night School but…
Whether you are travelling or staying in Michigan, I hope you find well-deserved downtime, and perhaps some opportunities to watch, discuss, or even practice dance! We return to the Alumni Center on Monday, March 9th and will be joined by the fantastic Kyle Abraham, whose company Abraham.In.Motion performs at the Power Center that weekend. As a hot, rising choreographer in today’s contemporary dance field, Kyle’s work will provide us with a new lens through which we view performance; it will be a real treat (unfortunately this time without the cupcakes) to have him with us for a session. See you all in two weeks!
Can’t wait to read my copy of Dancers as Diplomats!
Hou Ying and Peng Zheng Dance Performance, Feb. 24, 7pm, U-M Keene Theater (FREE)
Session 3 Resources and Readings:
Trisha Brown’s “Motor” at 1965 ONCE Festival
50 years ago choreographer Trisha Brown revved things up with “Motor,” a choreographic work for Volkswagen Beetles that had its world premiere in Ann Arbor’s Maynard Street parking garage. Check out more about this Ann Arbor News clipping: http://bit.ly/1vKHDg0
Did you go see Trisha Brown Dance Company’s performances 2/21-22? What did you think?: http://bit.ly/1A1FhKt
UMS Night School: Curious About Dance – Session 2 Recap
It’s Just So…French
We might be facing sub-zero temperatures outside this week, but things were definitely heating up in the U-M Alumni Center on Monday night. We began our second Night School session with a stimulating conversation about Compagnie Non Nova’s Afternoon of a Foehn, then launched into a movement workshop led by newly Chicago-based solo contemporary artist Anna Martine Whitehead. Gestures played a key role in Monday’s session; in both our post-show reflection and Martine’s movement workshop, we found ways to make meaning through the creation, manipulation, and reimagination of repeated motions.
To begin the session, Clare reintroduced our Night School ritual: saying our names while performing a gesture. This time, as a way to kick off the conversation about Compagnie Non Nova, we recalled and produced gestures from the performance. Afternoon of a Foehn runs through next weekend, so those of us who have not yet seen it were instructed to amplify someone else’s gesture. The result? A highly creative game of movement telephone that had us moving in, out, and through our circle in response to one another’s memories of the performance.
We then shared the significance of the gestures we picked, and identified themes and concepts that stuck with us as we watched the performance. What makes a strong visual in performance? How do the rules established in performance alter our expectations of what is to come? How can the performance space change throughout the narrative, and how can it change us? These are only some of the questions that came up as we dissected our own interpretations of the captivating piece of experimental theatre (/dance/ballet/performance art…as we discussed, the category in which it falls is really up to interpretation).
We also landed on a discussion about the conventions of French performance, and how American audiences identify the work produced by European companies as well…European. The hierarchies of performers, sense of pride in claiming a space, and abstraction of narrative are some of the aspects we landed on as, to quote Clare, “just so…French.” For those who plan to head to Skyline High School this weekend, I’d be curious to hear if these concepts stick out to you as you watch the performance.
Warming up for a movement workshop by exploring negative space and interacting with others.
Our discussion of the many ways to approach and interpret Afternoon of a Foehn served as a perfect segway to Martine’s workshop, which centered around the choreographic approach of rethinking movement. She associated this process with Queer Dance, which offers alternative ways to think about gender and sexuality, critique the normal, and imagine other ways to be in the world. Martine will demonstrate this mode of thinking in this week’s performance of Confetti Sunrise, which features the work of Martine and four other queer artists. The workshop served to prepare us for this show, as well as for this weekend’s performance by the Trisha Brown Dance Company.
Throughout the half hour we spent stretching, speaking, moving, and listening, Martine invited us to think: How can gesture make meaning? How can we embellish it, and do it so much that it creates own score? She invited us to act on our instinct, focusing on the concepts of compulsion and desire.
Indulging in stretches during Anna Martine Whitehead’s movement session!
We ended the session in conversation with a partner, during which words were not the primary conversational agents. Responding to the prompt “tell me something that nobody knows,” we performed for our partners a series of gestures that they recalled and repeated back to us. We then manipulated the gestures that we grabbed from our partners (embellished, amplified, repeated, took to a different level…) and created a repeatable sequence–known in dance as a phrase. The exercise encouraged us to think about movement, maybe first as a substitute for words, but then as its own entity whose meaning might veer away from the choreographer’s original narrative.
My fantastic partner, Howard, tells me something that nobody knows using only gestures.
Howard recalls the gestures I conveyed to tell him something that nobody knows.
I was happy to think about this exercise not only from a Queer Dance perspective, but within the context of Trisha Brown. I interned for the company this past summer through UMS’s 21st Century Artist Internship Program, and I was lucky enough to take composition/improvisation classes with Associate Artistic Director Diane Madden while I was there. In class, Diane introduced to me Trisha’s choreographic method of “throwing and catching” movement: Trisha often performed gestures or longer series of movement for her dancers, then asked them to repeat them back to her without ruminating on what they saw. The dancers’ interpretations of her movements ultimately inspired much of her choreography. As I explored this process over the summer, I developed an awareness of how I interpreted movement and how my own movement resonated with others. I was excited to return to this way of working in Night School, and to draw ties between Trisha’s historic work and the innovative contemporary work of Queer Dance artists.
Silent conversations with partners–using gestures to convey meaning.
Speaking of Trisha Brown, we have quite the marathon of dance ahead of us in Ann Arbor this week! Compagnie Non Nova, Confetti Sunrise, Trisha Brown, Dance on Camera…we can have a quadruple bill if we really want to! Remember, if you go to more than one performance this weekend, you are eligible for double stars on your UMS Card. More stars, more dance, more fun.
Next Monday, we will be joined by U-M Associate Professor of Dance Amy Chavasse for our discussion of Confetti Sunrise and Trisha Brown. Then we get to raise a cupcake to Clare in celebration of her new book! She and Jim will be in conversation about Dancers as Diplomats: American Choreography in Cultural Exchange for the latter half of our session, so come hungry for treats and lots of dance talk! (Photocopies of Clare’s first two chapters can be found in our Night School folders, if anyone wants to complete a little pre-reading.)
Events This Weekend:
- Compagnie Non Nova, Afternoon of a Foehn, Feb. 14-21, various times, Skyline High School. TICKET REQUIRED
- Confetti Sunrise, Feb. 18-19, 7:30pm, U-M Duderstadt Center, Video Studio (FREE BUT LIMITED SEATING, FIRST COME FIRST SERVE)
- Dance on Camera Festival, Feb. 21-22, 6pm, U-M Museum of Art, FREE
- Trisha Brown Dance Company Performances, Feb. 21-22, 8pm, Power Center. TICKET REQUIRED
- Related Events:
- Feb. 21: You Can Dance: Trisha Brown Dance Company, Ann Arbor YMCA, 10:45am-12:15pm (SIGN-UP REQUIRED, BEGINS AT 10AM, FIRST COME FIRST SERVE)
- Feb. 21: Tune In: Trisha Brown Dance Company, Power Center Lobby, 7:30-7:45pm (TICKET REQUIRED)
- Feb 21: Opening Night Q&A: Trisha Brown Dance Company, Power Center, post-performance (TICKET REQUIRED)
- Related Events:
Session 2 Resources and Readings:
Student Spotlight: On the Road with Trisha Brown
Editor’s note: During the summer of 2014, UMS launched a new 21st Century Artist Internship program. Four students interned for a minimum of five weeks with a dance, theater, or music ensemble part of our 2014-2015 season. Hillary Kooistra is one of these students. She spent the summer in New York and on the road with the Trisha Brown Dance Company.
Below she recounts her travels with the company. The Trisha Brown Dance Company will perform Proscenium Works, 1979-2011 at the Power Center on February 21-22.
As an embedded intern with the Trisha Brown Dance Company (TBDC), I worked alongside TBDC administrators and artistic directors, observed the company in rehearsals, befriended the dancers, learned repertory and improvisation/ composition techniques from TBDC alumni, and watched many, many performances. During my internship, I accompanied the dancers and TBDC artistic staff on two trips. This gave me a taste of life on the road for a dancer in an international touring company and allowed me to develop a deep understanding of the diverse performance programs that the Trisha Brown Dance Company presents.
The first stop on my personal tour with TBDC was Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, where the company was invited to perform selections from its Proscenium Works, 1979-2011 tour (the final tour of Trisha’s repertory works specifically choreographed for the stage, coming to Ann Arbor in February). After a NYC performance of “I’m going to toss my arms, if you catch them they’re yours” (fondly referred to by the company as “Toss”), I joined the company in a 15-passenger van headed toward Bard College. Though I was new to the touring artist lifestyle, I quickly learned that this pace is typical for the dancers. In one day, they danced on a pier overlooking the East River, drove upstate from New York City, and prepared for the next round of performances!
We arrived at Bard late that night. Throughout the weekend, I found myself enchanted by little details of tour life, as mundane as they may seem. I loved the trips to the grocery store to stock up on weekend meal essentials, the hospitality provided by the presenter, and the pre-rehearsal or performance rituals of each individual dancer before they all came together as a group; these helped me recognize touring as a realistic and obtainable aspect of a professional dance career, as opposed to something far-fetched and imaginative.
Even more exciting for me was the opportunity to watch the program in technical rehearsal and performances. The company presented “I’m going to toss my arms — if you catch them they’re yours,” “Set and Reset,” and “If You Couldn’t See Me.” They will bring the latter two to Ann Arbor. Seeing Diane Madden, co-associate artistic director of the company, lead the dancers in onstage rehearsals was like getting a sneak peek at the man behind the curtain before the grand unveiling.
My impression of the works was further enhanced when I watched them in performance with full costumes, lights, and set. Trisha valued the visual design elements of dances as much as she did the movement — collaborating frequently with artists such as Robert Rauschenberg and Donald Judd — and her choreography breathed a new light with the integration of additional production elements. I saw the program three times, and each time I noticed something new, but also recognized familiar moments or images. I’ve grown to admire this about Trisha’s work: her dances have multiple layers, but follow a cohesive line that runs parallel to the surprising twists and turns.
After our weekend at Bard, I parted ways with the company. I returned to New York to serve as the on-site coordinator for the TBDC Summer Intensive, a three-week workshop that offered up to six hours of technique, repertory, and composition classes each day. I acted as a point of reference for students and teachers and was also able to dance! Classes allowed me to further explore the works I had grown to know intimately as an audience member, and to embody the movement that I only saw and read about up until this point. Composition/improvisation class revealed the techniques behind choreographic concepts I had observed in Trisha’s work and allowed me to apply them to my own dance making. Some of what I learned will surely find its way into the work I create for my Senior BFA Concert this coming April!
In August, I reunited with the company for my second tour experience of the summer, a performance of Trisha’s Early Works at the Lynden Sculpture Garden in Milwaukee, WI. Before she began choreographing larger works such as “Set and Reset” for the proscenium stage, Trisha concentrated on shorter, site-adaptive dances for alternative venues such as museums, rooftops, and parks. The company performs these works for events throughout NYC and international tour venues and will continue to concentrate on these types of performances after the conclusion of Proscenium Works, 1979-2011.
This trip to Milwaukee marked my first foray into site work, and I quickly learned how much extra effort must go into presenting dance in any area other than a stage. We spent the first day at the Garden traveling from spot to spot, considering which dances would work best in front of which sculptures, identifying the strongest vantage points, and mapping a path for the audience to travel between locations. Since all the company members were not present for the initial site visit, I often assumed the role of a stand-in to help the team visualize dances in different locations. I was able to try some of Trisha’s choreography and tasks on site, doing her signature “Group Primary Accumulation” while floating on a raft in the middle of a pond and walking down the side of a tree for “Spiral.”
Trisha’s Early Works are full of these fun tasks and were an absolute blast to watch in performance. In one work titled “Sticks,“ dancers moved through a series of postures while balancing long, wooden sticks on their heads. This lighthearted performance atmosphere contributed to the informal relationship established between the dancers and audience. Throughout the performance, the dancers interacted with us, acknowledging when something wasn’t working and inviting us to join in on their fun. This, I discovered, was a delightful difference between the Early Works and Proscenium Works programs, the latter of which demonstrates a traditional separation between performers and audience.
Seeing the Early Works really sparked my interest in dance for alternative spaces, which I’ve been exploring since I’ve returned to Michigan. This marks one of the many ways that my travels with the company influenced my impressions of Trisha’s work and view of the dance field. I grew leaps and bounds throughout the summer, but my experience would not have been complete without the opportunity to climb in a van with 11 professional dancers or to walk down the side of a tree in front of the company’s associate artistic director. I began my rich and unique experience as an intern “embedded” with the company, but emerged as a knowledgeable, conversant member of the TBDC family.
Artist Interview: Jamie Scott, Trisha Brown Dance Company Dancer
The Trisha Brown Dance Company performs in Ann Arbor on February 21-22, 2015. Hillary Kooistra, University of Michigan Dance student and UMS intern, spent five weeks with the company during Summer 2014 as part of a new internship program. During her internship, Hillary had the chance to work with the company, and also to sit down with company members and interview them.
Her first was with dancer Jamie Scott. Jamie started dancing with the company as an apprentice in February 2012.
Hillary Kooistra: You’ve actually performed at UMS before with the iconic Merce Cunningham Dance Company. How has your work with the Trisha Brown Dance Company (TBDC) compared to your experience with Merce Cunningham?
Jamie Scott: It’s a very different way of approaching movement for me. A lot of the work that I’ve been doing since I joined TBDC has been re-calibrating the way that I think about movement, the way that I see movement, and the values that I give to different types of movement. There are many similarities, too, with learning repertory that’s been done before and with finding a way to re-inhabit works that have been done.
HK: Aesthetically, what would you say are some of the differences between Trisha’s work and Merce’s work?
JS: They strike a very similar aesthetic or taste from my point of view. But I’d say the biggest difference is that Merce’s work is very externally driven. The movement is very inorganic, and the task is finding a way to do the impossible, to use your muscles and everything you have to make these tasks possible. With Trisha, it’s almost the opposite. There are equally impossible tasks, but I’m trying to strip away as much as I can and re-calibrate force and energy. To find a way to arrive at the impossible form the inside out, rather than the outside in.
HK: At Power Center, you’ll perform Trisha Brown’s solo “If You Couldn’t See Me.” I know that you didn’t get to work directly with Trisha Brown in the studio, so how did you prepare, learn, and embody her movement for this solo?
JS: Leah Morrison, another dancer who has performed this solo, taught it to me along with Carolyn Lucas, one of the associate artistic directors of the company. After Leah left the company, we sat down with this amazing archive of footage of Trisha when she was first making the solo. In the video, she is going through the process of creating the movement, just so, and then taking it a step further, and then paring it back. We kind of went along with her whole process, and in doing that we got a lot of physical information that then translated into what you’ll see on the stage.
HK: I’ve noticed that the company often rehearses without music. When you do put on the music, what is that extra layer like?
JS: Actually, working with Merce Cunningham was similar in that respect. We never rehearsed to music, so I’ve gotten used to that. It’s sort of on and off, on and off. But I remember that the first time that I performed to music after rehearsing in silence, it added another dimension in the space. It opened up my awareness, my perception of the space, and gave me something else to interact with. Very tangible, actually. Oddly enough, it seemed very tangible.
Photo: Jamie warms up before the Company’s performance of “I’m Going to Toss my Arms–If You Catch Them They’re Yours” at Pier 15 for the 2014 River To River Festival in New York City. Photo by Hillary Kooistra.
HK: What would you say is the most challenging aspect of Trisha Brown’s work?
JS: I would say that it’s being honest with movement and not embellishing, not exaggerating, but trusting the simplicity of it.
HK: Trisha’s known as one of the most iconic post-modern dancers and choreographers of our time, partially because of that quality of her movement vocabulary. Do you think that this term “post-modern” accurately characterizes her work?
JS: If we’re talking about stripping away the fluff, which is one of the big tenets of post-modernism in dance, really getting back to the human and getting rid of the fluff, this work continues to do that. This work is all about that, especially the earlier programs. The later work begins to explore, and as with any great artist, the trajectory goes somewhere else.
Read more of Hillary Kooistra’s behind-the-scenes coverage of Trisha Brown Dance Company.
Artist Interview: Leah Ives, Trisha Brown Dance Company Dancer
Photo: Trisha Brown Dance Company dancer Leah Ives and fellow dancer Marc Crousillat rehearse a duet from one of many pieces of repertory the two must learn as new members of the Company. Photo by Hillary Kooistra.
The Trisha Brown Dance Company performs in Ann Arbor on February 21-22, 2015. Hillary Kooistra, University of Michigan Dance student and UMS intern, spent five weeks with the company during Summer 2014 as part of a new internship program. During her internship, Hillary had the chance to work with the company on the administrative side and to also sit down with company members and interview them.
Her second interview was with dancer Leah Ives. Leah started dancing with the company in June 2014, and she is also a U-M Dance graduate.
Hillary Kooistra: You’re one of the newer members of the company. Trisha Brown Dance Company is an iconic post-modern company that’s currently in a transition period, and this performance is part of a tour that showcases major stage works. What’s it like to enter rehearsals when the company is in a transition period?
Leah Ives: It’s hard for me to know what it was like for people to enter when the company was not in a transition period. I think we’re very focused on the performances that are coming up, and so in some ways, I imagine that the transition hasn’t fully affected the company quite yet. I feel lucky to be able to jump in and have the chance to perform these works.
I also recognize that this movement hasn’t had as much time to settle into my body and that I have a lot to learn when compared to the other dancers who may have performed these roles and who have had years with these movements and with the pieces settling onto them. I feel like I have a large task to complete in a very short period of time.
HK: Did you always know that you wanted to dance for Trisha Brown?
LI: I was always interested in the company. Once I studied the movement and the repertoire, I found it really satisfying and intriguing mentally. There is a lot of specificity, a lot of attention to detail, and then a lot of of abandoning of that and seeing where that goes in the body.
So yes, I was always interested in the company, but there’s a point when a dancer recognizes that she’s one of many that would love to work for a full-time company, and an iconic company like Trisha Brown Dance Company at that. So, I was content studying the work and getting what I could from the work as a technique, as movement. I am so thrilled to be one of the lucky people who get to actually perform the work.
HK: What are you most excited to share with our Ann Arbor audience? I know the company is doing “Newark” as well as “Set and Reset” (1983).
LI: I’m excited to show the sense of weight and peacefulness in the body that Trisha Brown’s movement is known for. The sort of physics that play through the body in her work may be very different from some of the work that has been presented recently at UMS. I think the pieces we’re performing are really dynamic works, really exciting works, very full of bodies, movement, and interplay between dancers. They’re very exciting pieces to watch.
HK: You graduated from the University of Michigan with a BFA in Dance in 2007. Can you think of work that you did as an undergraduate student at U-M that reminds you of the work you’re currently doing?
LI: While I was there, choreographer Alexandra Beller set a piece with us, and both the interaction between dancers and the grounded-ness of the movement was similar to Trisha Brown’s work. Choreographer Doug Varone also set a piece with us, and the sense of momentum in that piece was very similar to Trisha Brown’s work, the sense of feeling the weight of the arms and the swing through the body. I had also studied with former Trisha Brown Dance Company dancers during the summers and that has really helped me in performing these works.
HK: How is Trisha Browns’s work differed from other dance works that you’ve encountered in your career so far?
LI: Trisha’s work is incredibly intricate in a way that I’ve not encountered very often. It’s very visual, the spacing between dancers is incredibly important. Trisha seemed to have a clear vision of what she wanted in each moment, so we are always trying to re-create that vision.
It’s a tricky process because we are looking at one version of that vision from when the work was originally created, and then maybe another version from ten years later and on a different stage and with different people. This process is very different from what I’ve done in the past.; my other projects have mostly been new works. This concept of taking these roles that were created by someone else and were modified through her body, put onto another body that may or may not have affected the role, and then taught to the person who is now teaching me, is a really interesting way of translating movement. It’s a great challenge. I’m not quite there in the rehearsal process yet.
HK: We’re really looking forward to seeing you on stage back in Ann Arbor! Before we end our chat, can you tell us about your most memorable UMS experience while you were at the University?
LI: The most memorable is hard to pick. I was fortunate enough to live fairly close to Ann Arbor growing up. I lived in Brighton, Michigan. So when I was in Middle School, we had a field trip to the Power Center to see Elizabeth Streb’s Dance Company. That was my first experience with modern dance. It was really exciting, especially at that age, to see people flying through space and their use of trampolines and technology (the soundtrack was based on the bouncing). That stuck with me for a long time.
Another experience that stuck with me was during the Royal Shakespeare Company residency. There were many programs beyond their performances, one of which included a competition of interpretations of a sonnet. I had made a dance based on a sonnet and got to perform it for Patrick Stewart. And I didn’t place, but it’s still something I can brag about! It was a great brag-worthy experience.
Read more of Hillary Kooistra’s behind-the-scenes coverage of Trisha Brown Dance Company.