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March 11, 2004

UW dancers to perform ‘equipment piece’ at Henry

It’s not often that a choreographer’s name is the one in the title for an art exhibit, but that will be the case when the Henry Gallery opens Trisha Brown: Dance and Art in Dialogue, 1961–2001 next week. Brown is a choreographer who has often collaborated with visual artists, so the exhibit consists, in part, of sets that were created for her dances by well known artists.

But what would a choreographer’s exhibit be without some examples of her dances? So, on Thursdays and Sundays, visitors to the exhibit will be able to see Floor of the Forest performed live by local dancers — including students in the UW’s Dance Program.

“Robin Held, the exhibit curator, came to me two years ago when she was thinking about bringing the exhibit here, asking if we would like to be involved,” said Dance Program Director Betsy Cooper. “I immediately said yes.”

But the cross-campus collaboration didn’t stop there. Matthew Krashan, director of the Meany Hall World Series, is bringing the Trisha Brown Company to campus for performances in May, while the exhibit is here. And Krashan and Cooper obtained an Arts & Sciences exchange grant which will allow two Brown dancers to come to Seattle early and have a residency with Dance Program students.

“They’ll work with our intermediate and advanced students teaching technique and repertory,” Cooper said. “Then our students will get to see their performance.”

Trisha Brown is an avant-garde choreographer who was part of the Greenwich Village Judson Dance Theater movement in the 1960s. Floor of the Forest is a 1970 work that may not look much like a dance to some folks. In fact, it’s called an “equipment piece,” according to Cooper.

In this case the equipment is a large, 4-foot-high steel frame strung with a rope grid and laced with items of clothing. The dancers will get onto the grid and work their way in and out of the clothing.

“There will be two dancers on the grid at any one time, so they each have to be aware of the other and the balance of weight on the grid,” Cooper said.

Cooper put out a call to Dance Program students, and 15 signed on to perform, along with four alumni. They’ll be working in teams of four.

Senior Daniel Linehan said he volunteered because it sounded like fun. No stranger to Trisha Brown’s work, he’s learned two of her dances at summer work-shops—one at the Trisha Brown Studio.

“But those were concert works,” he said. “The piece at the Henry won’t be her movement; it will be a movement idea. It’s kind of exciting because in dance history classes we’ve learned about the postmodern era when people were experimenting with how ordinary movement can be dance, but I’ve never actually performed in something like that.”

Floor of the Forest is one of Brown’s early works, done at a time when she and other dancers were trying to throw out all the rules and make dances in an entirely new way.

“I don’t think she worked with music for a good 20 years,” Cooper said. “Her work was performed in nontraditional venues — in galleries or outside. She did things where she had dancers scaling the walls of buildings. There was a piece done on rafts on a lake, on park benches outside. The work looks very pedestrian. It’s everyday people, everyday bodies, everyday movement.”

Brown has evolved since that time, even creating an opera a few years ago.

The exhibit chronicles Brown’s work with drawings, paintings, photographs, video projections, costumes, set elements and other artworks that led to or emerged from Brown’s work with visual artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Donald Judd, Nancy Graves, Fujiko Nakaya and Terry Winters.

Performances of Floor of the Forest are at 6 p.m. Thursdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Dancers from Cornish College of the Arts will perform the work from the March 19 opening until May 2, at which point the UW dancers will take over. Beginning June 20, the work will be performed by UW and Cornish alumni.

Brown herself will lecture at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 18 in 130 Kane. Tickets are $15, $2 for students, and are available at the Henry. The Trisha Brown Company will perform May 20–23 at Meany. Tickets for those concerts are $34 and are available at the Arts Ticket Office,  206-543-4880.