Restaging a Legend
Brockport dancers are learning and expanding upon an iconic work from the Trisha Brown Dance Company.
Postmodern dance pioneer Trisha Brown’s choreography earned her accolades including a MacArthur Fellowship, five fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, two Guggenheim Fellowships, and a National Medal of Arts.
This fall, her legendary work is being both preserved and made new by dance majors at SUNY Brockport.
Associate Professor of Dance Mariah Maloney was a member of the Trisha Brown Dance Company from 1995 to 2002. Professor Emeritus Jacqueline Davis secured a grant from the New York State DanceForce to lead a semester-long project that includes teaching some of that iconic choreography to a new generation of dancers.
“It gives Brockport access to one of the most influential choreographers in the world,” said Maloney. “Trisha Brown changed the world of dance. Her work has made dance completely transform into a possibility for poetry and structure that didn’t exist before her.”
Access to the copyrighted choreography is a rare opportunity, afforded by Maloney’s history and relationship with the company.
“Brockport is the only New York college dance program outside the New York City region that has received permission to perform a Trisha Brown dance,” said James Hansen, associate professor and interim chair in the Department of Dance.
Of the more than 100 pieces Brown choreographed throughout her career, “Set and Reset,” which premiered in 1983 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, is her company’s signature work and is widely hailed as having confirmed Brown as a leader of abstract choreography. The New York Times called it an “enchanting use of peripheral space” and “pedestrianism raised into utopian poetry.”
Maloney and fellow company alumni Iréne Hultman and Vicky Shick are teaching Brockport student dancers exact sequences they learned directly from Brown when she was first creating the piece. They are also leading the students through extensive work in improvisation. The end result, “Set and Reset/Reset,” will premiere a combination of the original choreography and that created by the Brockport dance majors.
“Throughout this learning process, we as dancers have been developing our improvisational, technical, and compositional skills,” said junior Claire Fisher, who is pursuing a BFA in dance. “It was really fantastic to learn the material from dancers who worked alongside Trisha Brown; they are a primary source for this movement style.”
In guiding the improvisation, Maloney, Hultman, and Shick use the same five principals Brown gave to her company dancers: keep it simple, act on instinct, stay on the edge, work with visibility and invisibility, and get in line.
The continuity of the instruction keeps the memory of Brown alive. She passed away in March 2017.
“The legacy of her work lives on in her former company members,” said Maloney — and now in Brockport dancers, as well.
Hansen feels Brockport’s selection to perform this work is indicative of the dance program’s stature — regularly listed as one of the top in the nation and one of the top four in New York State — and “adds to the depth of technical training students receive in Brockport dance.”
Fischer recognizes the power of this opportunity.
“It has definitely elevated who I am as a student and as an artist,” she said. “It has increased my professionalism in the workspace and also pushed my eye for detail when picking up movement.”
“Set and Reset/Reset” will premiere in DANSCORE, November 16 and 17 at 7:30 pm in Hartwell Dance Theater and November 18 at 7:30 pm at Hochstein Performance Hall, Rochester. Tickets are available online, by phone at (585) 395-2787, or at the Tower Fine Arts Center Box Office, 180 Holley Street, Brockport. Tickets also will be available by cash or check at the door at Hochstein.