Friday, June 10, 2011

Friday Evening in the Meatpacking District: Trisha Brown Dance Company performs "Roof Piece" by the High Line

We were lucky enough to be on The High Line at 7 p.m. this evening to see the Trisha Brown Dance Company perform Roof Piece on the fortieth anniversary of its creation.

It was a gorgeous evening, warm but no longer hot, with a pleasant breeze from the Hudson, and there were big crowds at the High Line between West 13th and Gansevoort Streets to watch the performance.

In this work, ten dancers stationed on rooftops mimic each other's movements in an improvised and mutable series of movements.

The piece was re-created on roofs surrounding the southern end of the High Line,

so that those of us in the park were encircled by the performance as it unfolded.

Trisha Brown first came to public notice when she began showing her work with the Judson Dance Theater in the 1960s. Along with like-minded artists, she pushed the limits of what could be considered appropriate movement for choreography, transforming conceptions of modern dance.

Brown founded her namesake company in 1970, and many of her early works used the terrain of Soho, presenting them in non-traditional settings, outside of theaters, such as on roof tops and the sides of buildings.

Roof Piece was first performed in 1971, in and around Wooster, Prince, White and Lafayette Streets. As Roslyn Suclas wrote in the New York Times, the choreographer

put 12 dancers on adjacent rooftops in SoHo . . . and had them begin a chain of semaphored movement, one dancer picking it up from the next and transmitting the sequence across the buildings. There was no audience — at least none specifically assembled to watch. There were just the buildings, the streets and anyone who happened to look up. Roof Piece was then part of her experiment with the parameters of dance: What are its limits and constituents? What happens when you take away costumes, lighting, scenery, music, the theater itself?

The piece is still wondrous and we're glad we had the opportunity to watch Roof Piece this evening and, as the Times said, "to feel the continuing resonance of Trisha Brown’s work."


UPDATE, Monday, June 13 - Here is Gia Kourlas's review from today's New York Times:
The first performances of Trisha Brown’s “Roof Piece” took place on rooftops from 53 Wooster Street to 381 Lafayette Street in Manhattan, and even though I wasn’t there, a remarkable photograph from 1971 has always made me feel otherwise. In Babette Mangolte’s black-and-white image a dancer stands in the foreground. Leaning forward, one knee bent with her hands pressing into her lower back, she faces an industrial landscape where water towers and a panorama of rooftops dot a hazy horizon. She stares at it, and it stares back: a frontier of open space, freedom and possibility.

Over the weekend the Trisha Brown Dance Company performed the work along the southern end of the High Line between West 13th and Gansevoort Streets. In the piece, last shown outdoors and on rooftops in 1973, one dancer performs improvised gestures that are repeated by the next nearest dancer. The pattern enacts a chain of movement that flows in one direction for 15 minutes and then in the opposite direction for the same amount of time.

On this majestic stage Ms. Brown’s idea was to test the notion of how movement is preserved, or not, from one dancer to the next. Originally there were 12 dancers, and this time 9. As before, the dancers punctuated the landscape with red costumes.

Leah Morrison, positioned the farthest south but still maintaining her cool, lanky elegance, began the cycle that ended (and started again) with Elena Demyanenko, standing on a roof just below the High Line’s footpath. Others, on distant rooftops, surrounded the area. Laurel Tentindo, her pants billowing in the wind, faced out of a corner building on Washington Street as if she were about to fly.

The scale of Tamara Riewe and Samuel von Wentz’s microscopic bodies positioned against the Hudson River was austere and astounding. Although the performers remained fairly stationary apart from brief stints of jogging and marching in place, there was clarity in the deceptively casual way they swung their arms back and forth, flapped their hands or pitched forward like skiers.

Until the final moment, when the dancers stopped moving and a hush came over the crowd, “Roof Piece” at the High Line wasn’t much of a spiritual experience. Instead it told a more familiar tale about the ever-widening gulf between commerce — the meatpacking district’s frighteningly robust restaurant-and-shopping scene on a Friday night — and art. I’ll put it another way: The street was Fort Lauderdale at spring break, and the sky, dotted with red-clad performers, embodied purity in the exacting and simple form of a dancer moving in space.

At its core “Roof Piece” at the High Line still preserved the work’s integrity, but the setting edged it precariously close to a gimmick. The work really belonged in Brooklyn. It would have been magnificent in Bushwick, with its vast sea of warehouses, and where the message could have been one about resilience, from one generation of artists to the next: Don’t give up.

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