Trisha Brown has been creating dance pieces for over five decades. She was the first female choreographer to win the MacArthur Genius Grant, and in 2011 she was given the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize for her “outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life.”
On Friday night, her company began their three-day Spoleto Festival USA run in the Sottile Theatre. They presented four pieces from their repertoire, one from each of the past four decades: “Rogues” (2011), “Present Tense” (2003), “If You Couldn’t See Me” (1994), and “Set and Reset” (1981). While there were moments in the performance that were jaw-dropping, the evening as a whole felt slightly disjointed (think listening to a greatest hits CD, in that all the songs are good but together don’t add up to anything bigger). It was the rare case where the sum of the parts was greater than the whole.
The concert started slowly with “Rogues,” an intimate two-person piece. The two dancers moved beautifully together, but an emotional connection was missing. Space has such a profound impact on any performance and “Rogues” would have benefitted from a more intimate setting. While the Sottile has many wonderful attributes, intimacy is not one of them.
On the other hand, “Present Tense” picked up the pace. With a sort of hipster detachment they effortlessly lifted each other around the stage. With two of the dancers in brightly covered costumes and the rest of the company in neutrals, this piece was a beautifully choreographed power struggle made all the more menacing by their expressionless faces.
“If You Couldn’t See Me” was a sultry number. Discovered in beautiful side light, Jamie Scott, gazelle like, performed the entire piece with her back to the audience. The audience seemed to be on the edge of their seats wondering, hoping to see the dancer’s face. This very simple, creative device was highly effective as the tension in the audience was palpable.
The final piece and the highlight of the evening was “Set and Reset.” Choreographed in 1981, the Cold War and media propaganda is in the DNA of the dance. Set to the droning original composition “Long Time No See,” the dancers fluidly went about their business while images of war and of smiling, clapping masses of people were projected above them. It was a reminder that life continues regardless of the impending danger. Watching “Set and Reset” was like going back in time, and the number was made all the more poignant knowing that the images of war and of smiling, clapping masses of people are just as relevant 34 years later.