The Dia: Beacon, a massive, naturally-lit contemporary art museum housed in an old Nabisco box-printing factory, is an ideal setting for dance performances – especially when the performances require high ceilings and pillars from which the dancers can gracefully fall. Trisha Brown Dance Company, currently celebrating its 40th anniversary, performed at the Dia: Beacon over the weekend in several of its large galleries.
Spiral (1974) was the shortest yet most complex piece, requiring ten pillars, ten harnesses, and ten ladders – one per dancer. The performers simultaneously climbed to the top of the columns in the museum’s lower level gallery, and then walked perpendicular to the column until they reached the floor. They seemed to defy gravity as they hung sideways with their feet on the column and gracefully spiraled to the ground. The second round of spiraling was done in a wave, with two dancers at a time starting their descent. The lower gallery is a monstrous and spookily empty space, but it felt amazingly airy and enchanted throughout Brown’s piece.
The other piece on the program requiring a set was Floor of the Forest (1970). Two men, Todd Stone and Samuel von Wentz, navigated across a large web made of thick rope and colorful clothing. They climbed over the rope, slipped horizontally in and out of shorts and shirts, and dangled for lengthy amounts of time below the grid. There was a satisfying rhythm to the piece as the dancers intently maneuvered across the rope-clothing forest and then settled comfortably into their chosen attire. The only sound was the occasional ripping of seams that couldn’t support the suspended men.
An excerpt from Foray Forêt (1990) positioned four dancers evenly in front of an exhibit of large, wooden boxes. Their fluid weight shifts and repetitive gestures contrasted with the stiff, cold feeling from the exhibit. In the Knoebel gallery, Dai Jian and Leah Morrison performed You can see us (1995/1996) to a score by Robert Rauschenberg. Morrison had her back to the audience for the duration of the work, and as she and Jian swung their limbs and created multi-dimensional shapes with their torsos, the audience begged to see not only her movement, but also her expression. Jian, whose face was visible the whole time, was fully present, while Morrison remained a mystery.
There is nothing quite like lying on the floor of the Dia and listening to the recording of Brown’s meditative and occasionally quirky voice guide you through Skymap (1969), the only non-dance work on the program. It was a journey across cities and an opportunity to envision one’s own mental map of letters, places, words, and dreams. The museum’s high ceilings and skylights lent themselves well to the creativity required of the work. Brown recorded Skymap forty-one years ago, but an exercise in imagination never grows old.