I recently returned from Paris, France after leading a week long Technique and Repertory workshop at Centre National de le Danse for the Trisha Brown Dance Company.  Over the course of the week, I led students through a creative practice that has emerged as a result of my research as Archive Creative Director of TBDC since 2009, my teaching as an Alexander Technique Teacher and collaboration with partner, Kai Kleinbard as part of our Body Literate Initiative.

During the workshop, I was not attempting to represent Trisha Brown’s work directly – but to use principles from the work as a point of entry to have a conversation with the students at CND.  My primary focus was to assist students in cultivating their own interests in relationship to Brown’s vast body of work, as a resource for exciting creative strategies involved in learning and creating.

Over five days, we charted the following three structuring impulses that have emerged over the course of Brown’s work.  Based on my own observations, I have broken these three categories into:  mapping, motor, and unconscious movement.

Here are some highlights from the workshop:

Day 1:  Eco-poise & Expansion

We explored Alexander Technique fundamentals as a way to connect to the stability of the body through the periphery.  We found that “core” can be created by moving all 6 limbs (head, tail, arms, and legs) distally away from the center.

Connecting this expansion in the body to Brown’s score for “Locus” – we played further with center/periphery as a way to map movement.

Locus is organized around 27 points located on an imaginary cube of space slightly larger than the standing figure in a stride position.”  – Trisha Brown

Day 2:  Breathing through lines

Principles to work on:

  • Proper tension, Poise, Balance, Opposition, Ease
  • “rooting” – “oppositional forces” (to offer support)
  • Sensing line – invisible support structure/related to gravity – to hook into and organize around
  • Finding relationship – connection – support

Learning phrase material from Brown’s 1983, Set and Reset 

Mapping:  Drawing practice of the Set and Reset phrase – what is it’s energy, pathway, movement quality, rhythm, etc?  What is it’s weight?  Momentum?  Direction?

In looking at all the line drawings, each in their own complexity, it was incredible to observe unifying elements amongst the 25 drawings.  These composing elements of Set and Reset were reflected in each the line drawings, such as:

  • rt angles
  • transitions from smooth to sharp and direct
  • pendulum
  • cause and effect
  • direction

Drawing with the body, we each created our own room writing improvisations, inspired by Brown’s 1966, “Inside”.

Score for Brown’s Inside:

To make…Inside, I stood facing a wall in my studio at a distance of about twelve feet and beginning at the extreme left, I read the wall as a score while moving across the room to the far right.  Any question that arose about the speed, shape, duration or quality of a move was determined by the visual information on the wall.  An odd distribution of actions and gestures emanated from the architectural collection of alcove, door, peeling paint and pipes.  After finishing the first wall, I repositioned myself in the same way for the second wall and repeated the procedure, (then) for the third and fourth.  Therefore, in performance, I moved along the edge of the room, facing out, on the kneecaps of the audience, who were placed in a rectangular seating formation duplicating the interior of my studio.  I was marking the edge of the space, leaving the center of the room empty, the movement concretely specific to me, abstract to the audience.  And I looked at them.  I added the problem of looking at the audience, not “with meaning,” but with eyes open and seeing.  (Trisha Brown from Dance and Art in Dialogue)

Day 3:  Weight

Principles to work on:           

  • Alexander Technique inspired partner graphics – exploring the weight of the body
  • Sensing weight – actively broadcasting weight in the space
  • Pouring weight into the ground to cast body freely into space
  • Weight grounding an image – giving it reality/substance
  • Weight – connected to flow – flow of weight

Warm-up improvisation:

Learned material from Brown’s 1979, Glacial Decoy: exploring it’s textural, qualitative and rhythmic shifts.

Line-up – ensemble improvisation (simple to complex) with 5 rules from Set and Reset:

  • visibility/invisibility
  • act on instinct
  • play the edge
  • Keep it simple
  • lining up

Day 4:  MOTOR- rhythm and pulse as a motor

Warm-up – working with grounding and bounce – finding a way to lever against the ground and use it for rhythmic play.  This kind of spring and impetus from the ground is a “motor” for movement.

Warm-up improvisation “Emergent rhythm form” (created by Kai Kleinbard)

  • Moving from simple to complex – tracking polyrhythm in the body
  • Playing groove of the music with the body
  • Feeling the rhythm of a drop (downbeat) – and the resultant weight and bounce in the body

Creative practice:  What is your own motor?  (begin gathering images, thoughts, drawings about this)

Explored the idea of “motor” Trisha Brown’s Water Motor, 1978

“Motor” is a very important strategy in Brown’s work – capturing a dynamic, textural, polyrhythmic play that moves through her architectured sense of space.  Often generated as a play of “cause and effect” mechanics, this motor is a thread that can be tracked through all of her choreographies.

Day 5:  Unconscious movement (“There is no graph – I used imagery.”  – Trisha Brown)

Authentic movement in partners – Observations / writing

Read score from Trisha Brown’s 1966 Homemade

Play with memory, imagery, and personal narrative

Principles to work on:

  • active listening
  • acting on instinct
  • playing the memories that arise unconsciously
  • play of rhythm and timing

Ensemble improvisation using the character breakdown from For M.G:  The Movie:

  •             Marathoner
  •             Everyman
  •             Voyeur
  •             Bad girl

Over the course of the week, I found that this creative embodiment of the work lends itself very beautifully to learning material or to entering a creative practice.  I was able to witness the possibility for students to compose their own dancing.  For me, what makes Brown’s work alive is this moment-to-moment ability to compose the rhythm, space, and sense of mechanics animated in the body.  Attending to this kind of active listening asks the dancers to work as improvisers, attending multi-dimensionally to all the layers of information they are experiencing.

Thank you to everyone who joined me at CND!  It was such a pleasure to learn, research, and explore this material together.  I hope for more soon!

-Cori Olinghouse