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Review: A New Dance to Trisha Brown Examines the Act of a Fall

As the Trisha Brown Dance Company continues without Trisha Brown – the great postmodern choreographer who died in 2017 – the group has staged works on and off stage, and even moved their works to a beach.

But a company can only go so far with the dances of its founding choreographer. It has entered the inevitable phase of having to commission new works, and for its final season at the Joyce Theater, which began Tuesday, the group tapped French choreographer Noé Soulier to create a premiere, its second by someone ‘other than Brown.

Soulier’s “In the Fall” is part of a season dedicated to Steve Paxton, who died last month. In this new work, Soulier presents a finely crafted response to Brown’s vocabulary, painstakingly deconstructed as he places it under the microscope.

“In the Fall,” created with support from Dance Reflections of Van Cleef & Arpels and others, features eight dancers in all, wearing separates in blue, yellow or red, designed by Kaye Voyce. The performers periodically show up at the same time, but even when they do, it’s still a scene of individuals. The harsh light, by Victor Burel and Soulier, makes them shine like jewels seen from afar in a cave.

At the beginning, two dancers are featured, Ashley Merker and Burr Johnson, each dressed in blue and moving with plenty of space between them as they navigate a darkened stage. Their bodies slowly transform and deepen into shapes and balances, and they succumb to gravity. It’s not fast and furious but initiated, apparently, by a deep internal attraction.

The dancers are not outwardly showy, but they are dramatic, with a concrete, icy clarity. In contrast to the soaring fluidity of Brown’s movement, which skims and tickles the air with seemingly unbridled freedom, Soulier carefully arranges the bodies, segment by segment. His idea of ​​the fall is that of an eternal movement; it flows from the body not to collapse but to collapse, leaving behind pools of flesh.

Soulier, director of the Center National de Danse Contemporaine in Angers, France – one of that country’s government-supported choreographic centers – studied Brown’s vocabulary and repertoire while a student at the Studios de recherche et training in performing arts in Brussels. In a program note for Joyce, he writes that while Brown “reveals the fundamental forces at work in the body,” he explores “inorganic transitions, the gap between intention and gesture, effort and contraction “.

But as “In the Fall” attests, there is inner and outer strength to both. While movement has a way of melting bodies in Brown’s work, Soulier, in his way of slowing things down, demonstrates an order and logic that echoes the structure that binds Brown’s ribbon-like flow .

Set to music by Florian Hecker, in which environmental sounds invade the stage evoking sprinklers and distant traffic, Soulier’s dance unfolds through solos and duets that resemble personal contests of control and dimension. He builds to a level of speed – the bodies become more turbulent as they rise and fall – before settling into his earlier rhythm, in which Johnson, repeating an image, uses his length to incredible effect as he balances on one foot with the other bent backwards. . His knees stay together as he folds with his arms extended behind him until he turns so deep that that torso twists in fall.

This premiere was joined by two of Brown’s works, the masterpiece “Glacial Decoy” (1979), with visual and costume design by Robert Rauschenberg, and “Working Title” (1985), set to music by Peter Zummo. In this playful second work, a brighter, more connected foray into solos and duets, Brown uses his phrases, which push the dancers’ physical limits, as a choreographic resource. (One iteration of the dance features a performer lifted into the air by a harness – Brown was fascinated by the idea of ​​flying – but Joyce’s production omits this.)

Tuesday’s “Working Title” provided an opportunity to study its dancers, including the seductive Jennifer Payán, who brings a thrilling rag-doll precision to all her roles, and Amanda Kmett’Pendry, a former company member filling in a sick dancer. , whose artistic talent is imbued with ease.

And here, the elegant Catherine Kirk found more sweetness in Brown’s movement. In one solo, her long limbs became liquid while she was still on high alert as she rushed madly towards a back wing. It was glorious, bringing to life Brown’s program note about the dance: “If you’re going fast, you just have to choose where you place your feet.” »

In “Glacial Decoy,” Brown’s first collaboration with Rauschenberg and his first proscenium work, four women – a fifth joins later – wear the artist’s long, diaphanous dresses that make them appear to float . They slide back and forth in a choreography that, at first, has them huddled on opposite sides of the stage. It’s sneaky, deliberately trippy: how many dancers are there?

Meanwhile, images of Rauschenberg’s Americana also flash by. The black-and-white photographs – a tree with string tied around it, a single light bulb, a bicycle saddle – provide stark contrast as daily life, much of it dusty and hot in summer, brushes past hovering, ghostly female forms . “Glacial Decoy” remains the marvel it always was.

Trisha Brown Dance Company

Through Sunday at the Joyce Theater in Manhattan; joyce.org.

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