THE CHOREOGRAPHER TRISHA BROWN has made dances worth arguing about for more than 50 years, and for at least 30 years her dances have been loved across the world. Many of today’s best-known choreographers — including David Gordon, Mark Morris and Stephen Petronio — have cited her influence, whether for the poetic fluidity of her movement or for the steely, analytical methods of her choreographic structures. A pioneer of the pure-dance experimentalists of the 1960s and ’70s, she challenged and changed the way we define dance performance.
Between the ’80s and this century’s first decade her collaborators included Robert Rauschenberg and Laurie Anderson, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Simon Keenlyside. And for decades she was a superlative dancer herself, a disarmingly witty artist of exceptional coordination and dexterity.
Yet in December Ms. Brown announced that her next two dances would be her last. Though this news wasn’t a total surprise — she is 76 — it nonetheless brought a complex sense of loss. This week those final works have their premieres at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, alongside revivals of some of her most beloved dances.
What is it like — for her, for her colleagues, for us — to address the end of such a career? How do we react when a beloved artist (as Philip Roth recently did with fiction) says this is the end? Only about a year ago farewells were paid to the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, another vital force in modern dance. Now comes this.
Cunningham and Ms. Brown, both from Washington State, were friends. Ms. Brown studied with Cunningham, absorbed his influence, rejected aspects of it and maintained great admiration for him and his work. Among the world’s foremost dance makers these two led the field in terms of pure-dance movement inventiveness. From the first she accepted some of the radical characteristics of his dance theater (movement for its own sake, independent of music and design) and discarded others (a codified dance technique with academic virtuosity). Now both those chapters are completed.
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