(This includes material about several different events, but they all seemed related to me, so I didn't want to split them apart)
Sometimes it seems like watching dancing is like buying a car -- you don’t think twice about Volkswagens until you’ve got one, and then the streets seem filled with Bugs and vans. At one point, we’re all supposed to have dreamed about flying, but it hadn’t crossed my mind in ages until this last weekend when flying cropped up in nearly everything I saw.
The Henry Gallery at the University of Washington just opened an exhibit of work by Trisha Brown and several of her collaborators, including Robert Rauscheberg and Donald Judd. Brown gave a public talk Thursday night where the idea of flying came up several times, as she told levitation stories and gave an impromptu performance of “Accumulation with Talking.” The gallery exhibit includes the installation structure for her 1970 work “Floor of the Forest,” where dancers are suspended above the ground on a kind of rope grid, and rotating groups from the local dance community will be performing the piece twice a week from now until summer -- an amazing opportunity to see something in depth. The set and costume pieces in the exhibit are fascinating, but even better, as far as I’m concerned, is the wealth of video that comes along with it, generous excerpts of “Set and Reset,” “Handmade,” and “Glacial Decoy,” among others.
The next evening I saw “Without a Net,” a performance of trapeze artists at a local gallery. Like ice dancing and synchronized swimming, aerial work lies so close to dance that it’s easy to look at it with the same eyes, but that’s not really right -- the physics of hanging in the air are different than jumping into it or leaping through it, which makes the aesthetics different as well. The work made me think of magicians, and their ability to direct our attention away from the mechanics of the trick -- while some of the performers had painstakingly choreographed each transfer of weight or change in grip to make it look like just another gesture, others were almost blatant in their presentation. “I am pulling myself up a rope and looping it around my foot. I am letting go and dropping upside down. I am sliding down the rope and stopping just before my head crashes into the floor.” And as I’m watching the bottom is dropping out of my stomach. It reminded me of the equipment pieces in Brown’s exhibit, huge constructions of exposed track and wires, like mountain climbing gear. And it reminded me of the title of the Duchamp large glass -- “The Bride Stripped Bare by the Batchelors.”
And if that wasn’t enough, later that weekend, in a mixed bill by Arc Dance (a local ballet and modern company) there was more trapeze work of the “nothing up my sleeve” variety. Seattle has seen a lot of aerial work, back to Robert Davidson’s low-hanging trapeze dances in the 1980’s, including “Airborne Meister Eckert,” where the hypnotic affect of swinging supported the image of the German religious mystic. (and now that I think of it, Pat Graney’s dancers were hanging upside down before that, in “Childrenz Museum.”) I must be a slow study, because it took me awhile to realize back then that the dancer doesn’t really have to move on the trapeze in order to appear to be in motion -- the spinning and swinging of the equipment supplies the action to something that might otherwise be a static tableau, like the ubiquitous ballerina in the music box. It takes effort to get something moving -- to pump a swing or wind it up, but once you take your feet off the floor, the stored energy plays itself out very gradually -- momentum and entropy take the place of friction as you slow to a stop. This work seems to be all about turning, and a kind of lyrical grace, where the circling trapeze makes complex parabolas out of simple gestures.
The Brown exhibit is open until mid-July, and the company will be in Seattle at the end of May, in case you’re planning a trip out here.
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