The Trisha Brown Dance Company, beloved by New York art and dance aficionados (particularly since the company’s participation in the 2012 Whitney Biennial) has been able to maintain the traditions of Brown’s work in the 1960s-70s while continually making it appear fresh and contemporary. This is certainly in large part due to the strength of Brown’s work and the fact that she has been continually working in the space between dance and art since the early 60s. The Park Avenue Armory’s presentation of Astral Converted is specifically timely in regards to the outburst of programming around John Cage’s centennial birthday. Cage, who was commissioned to write his composition Eight for the dance as an integral element to the final product as is the choreography or the original portable set design and costumes designed by Robert Rauschenberg. This collaboration of arguable the greatest artistic minds in their respective fields is something uniquely signature to the environment surrounding the Judson Dance Theatre and has, in my opinion yet to be challenged in depth and quality.
With Astral Converted Brown has managed to constantly dialogue, in a playful critique, the conventions of earlier dance practices. Underlying balletic and modern dance structures and movements are never far below the surface. The mixed-gender dancers partner, execute stunningly beautiful and difficult assisted movements and lifts—yet these traditional forms are expanded, complicated as female partners support their male counterparts and many passages are performed with one or more dancers on the floor. Brown’s signature absence of transition movements is celebrated. Each movement flows directly into the next, the dancers maintain a energetic, constant pace throughout the performance, requiring a deceiving amount of physical and mental stamina. Wearing simple gray body suits (the female dancers’ costumes feature a triangular wedge of diaphanous material sewn into their inseam as a quasi-skirt) the dancers’ bodies are celebrated in their equal parts anonymity and individuality. Cage’s score, a classic example of his employment of noise, or colloquial sound as raw material for musical composition replaces complex classical music orchestration thus the structure it gives to the dancer’s movement. Yet in its repetition, monotony, with no distinguishable movements or changes in either rhythm or tempo, the music exactly complements and supports the movements of the dancers.
Furthermore, Astral Converted is a fundamental deconstruction of the proscenium stage and its conventions. The dancers perform on a black platform slightly raised from the gymnasium floor. Required to be portable, the set consists entirely of eight bare-bones, metal towers positioned to either side of the space, which double as structures to support the sound system, lights and sensors, which activate the music upon the dancers’ proximal movement. After completing a section, the dancers run off the “stage,” remaining fully in the audience’s view as the stand statically waiting for their next entrance. When the entire group scurried off “stage,” only to circle and come back in formation for their final curtain call, this element of the piece was boldly and playfully announced, and by leaving us with that image, Brown insures the revelation of what Astral Converted was designed to be, a portable performance in a society that has since continually pushed towards the compact, the small and the mobile.
Astral Converted was performed at The Park Avenue Armory July 10-14, 2012