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Trisha Brown – Three Works: You can see us, Foray Forêt, Set and reset

“Trisha Brown brings three dance works to Vienna’s ImPulsTanz.”

This sounds like something from the nineteen-nineties. In the nineties, Trisha Brown did bring eleven works to Vienna, including the three we saw tonight .

ImPulsTanz and Tanzquartier managed to collaborate on bringing this reconstruction to open the modern dance season this year. Over the last few years, dance has so lost its way in Vienna, that there are no steps anymore just words. For music at most one gets modern pop songs blasted too loud, at least just silence.

In the lobby of MuseumsQuartier’s main stage Halle E, the excitement was palpable with a keen dance and cultural audience eager to step onto the time machine Karl Regensburger created for us this evening.

Curiously the best piece of the evening was the earliest creation shown, Set and Reset from 1983. The music is vintage Laurie Anderson. The constant bell rings alarm and and tension throughout the theatre. Overhead onto a triangular construction old films and advertisments are projected with the soundtrack behind the bells, the cacophony of modern urban and televised existence transmuted into art. Images of engine rooms and troubled nurses, as if in the bowels of a great ship.

The dancers fling their arms and move urgently across the stage, never staying more than a minute or two before another wave replaces them. The choreography is a celebration of movement.

Laurie Anderson’s music reminded one of Liquid Sky, the cult film about aliens in search of heroin addicts in New York counterculture. We are transported to another time where solutions seemed more plausible and decadence still a veneer.

One doesn’t notice it as much in Set and Reset, but the current Trisha Brown dancers are not nearly hard and lean or desperate enough. These are the academic movers of reconstruction and not the artists on the cutting edge of the avant garde who created the original work with Trisha Brown.

Set and Reset gets away with reconstruction as the elements of projection, sound and music are so dominant and can be accurately reconstructed.

In the other two works Foray Forêt (1990) and You can see us (1995), the reconstruction is less successful as they are both far more dependent on the individual performances. You can see us was originally a duet for Bill T. Jones and Trisha Brown, created relatively spontaneously to fill a program.

<blockquote>I didn’t have the time to make a new piece, but honoured by the request, suggested he learn my solo If you couldn’t see me and we perform it as a duet….front/back, man/woman, gay/straight, young/not so youn, black/white, etc..</blockquote>

With all the good will in the world Leah Morrison and Dai Jian can’t fill those boots. Consequently, You can see us comes off as somewhat pointless. Shakespeare wrote his plays thinking of specific actors. So it is with the choreography of You can see us. A foggy mirror.

Foray Forêt fares somewhat better as it is a group effort. The accident of a marching band outside the rehearsal becomes the memory of a marching band inside the performance. National anthems take over the bodies and movements of the performers and we drift with them against the pink and golden skies projected on the back of the theatre wall.

The dancers wear garb which is a cross between the Arabian Nights and golden space suits: the whole effect is rather surreal, as if one has landed in another universe, somewhat like our own but different. The dance, a strange world of miscommunication.

The music is performed live all over the world, as one cannot count on the audio system of the theatre can’t be counted on to reproduce space. So different real marching bands from Portugal to France to Austria have filled. The measured unpredictability of the score forces the performers to really pay attention, to be alive.

By way of comparison, I’ve seen Trisha Brown’s o Composite performed by the Paris Opera, another Laurie Andersen collaboration. Here each slight emotional intonation becomes a precise movement. Foray Forêt was informative but could be performed better. But neither Foray Forêt could touch the frenetic energy of Set and Reset which left the audience and this reviewer on a high.

Set and Reset remains a vibrant and timeless work. Not reconstruction but living art. To see it live, made the whole evening worthwhile.

By bringing back works from Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker and Trish Brown, Karl Regensburger is giving a new generation of artists a chance to see what the excitement about dance is. That it movement and not just long faces and pretentious posing.

Perhaps they will be able to return to the high road and the world of performance installation can go back to where it belongs, the museums of modern art.

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