A rigorous melding of technical acuity with pedestrian motion marks the work of avant-garde choreographer and visual artist Trisha Brown. Her thirty-plus-year career includes collaborations with Laurie Anderson and Robert Rauschenberg, choreography for three operas and a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant. Brown’s company performs a retrospective of her work this weekend, including a selection from the opera “Pygmalion,” her latest endeavor. Brown no longer gives interviews, but I had the pleasure of speaking with five-year company member Tamara Riewe about the performance.
Can you tell me a little about “Les Yeux et l’âme” (from “Pygmalion”)?
It’s always an interesting experience because we always create the opera in conjunction with the singers. This piece is very classical and full of musical rules we don’t deal with very much in terms of counting and the tone of the piece being dictated by the tone of the music. It’s exciting to be a company that specializes in abstract choreography and work with music that isn’t abstract. I think she does an excellent job of revealing other aspects of the music that, just listening to it, you might fall into the pattern of thinking “this sounds happy or sad or this sounds like a love story.” Trisha opens it up and blows the concept of formal dances out of the water.
How is it to perform repertory spanning thirty years?
I feel like the older work is still so relevant today. They’re still totally fresh…it’s why I’ve stayed in the company this long: the combination of mental, cerebral, conceptual work, where you’re constantly thinking of the phrasing, remembering how the people who created it were riffing off one another, that combined with the sheer physicality of the work, the memory is working so hard while trying to stay relaxed. It’s exciting to hear that these works, though 35 years old, because the experience is being lived by us every night on stage, the audience is having a vicarious experience of that too.
Are there any older pieces that particularly speak to you?
“Watermotor” is very special because Neal Beasley is the first person other than Trisha to perform it. I’ve had the joy to watch it every night. It’s incredibly detailed and incredibly characteristic of what makes her who she is as an artist. It’s the culmination of her work as an improviser. This idea of valuing what is truly personal is so relevant in today’s world: we have this incredible population growth and everyone is searching for identity…it’s this idea that you have an individual voice. It’s a great message. (Sharon Hoyer)
At the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 East Chicago, (312)397-4010. April 15-17, $22-$28.