The first time I encountered Trisha Brown’s choreography was at college dance company auditions my first semester of my freshman year. The instructor took us through part of Solo Olos (1976), and when I had just wrapped my mind around the complicated, yet pedestrian, movement sequence, she explained that it could be performed forwards or backwards and branch into additional phrases depending on the instructions of a live caller. I was bewildered, but intrigued. How could phrases be designed to interlace so seamlessly? How could movement that seemed so quotidian and familiar be so elegant and intricate? As I learned more about Trisha Brown throughout my dance studies, my bewilderment grew into love, and what thrilled me about her work then, still thrills me now. Brown was a pioneer who helped forge the path to contemporary dance; her influence can largely be seen in the structure of her works, her movement vocabulary, and her use of non-proscenium spaces.


Brown has described herself as “a bricklayer with a sense of humor” and her dances often have complex highly logical structures. I remember seeing her Accumulation (1971) for the first time and being captivated as her gestures kept compounding and expanding. Brown’s work is cerebral and smart: it doesn’t pander to the audience. Like a puzzle, the work is for the viewer to figure out. It avoids narrative, instead emphasizing structures and concepts, an influence we feel in contemporary dance today.


Pedestrian movement also figures large in many of Brown’s works. Eschewing the technicality and grandeur of classical dance, Brown employs a more casual and gestural vocabulary. I saw the Trisha Brown Dance Company perform at Brooklyn Studios for Dance earlier this month, and watching parts of Opal Loop (1980) reminded me of the unique virtuosity of her movement: discrete gestures follow unexpected pathways, but are linked with a fluidity of performance that occasionally appears as if one is watching a continuous stream of water. This physicality that derives from the idiosyncrasies of the human brain and body is another of Brown’s lasting contributions to contemporary dance.


Brown’s early works often made use of non-proscenium spaces: her Man Walking Down the Side of a Building (1970) featured a performer harnessed to a building walking down the side of it at a ninety degree angle; Roof Piece (1971) positioned dancers on the roofs of buildings in downtown Manhattan passing along a phrase in a version of “telephone” with choreography. Many of these early works found apt performance spaces in galleries and museums, and seem prescient when looking at today’s dance landscape that increasingly features performances outside of the theater space.

Seeing the Trisha Brown Dance Company a few weeks ago highlighted the legacy Brown left on the dance world and the ways in which her work shaped choreography today. (It was also an absolute treat to see the beautiful partner work in Geometry of Quiet, from 2002). The company’s performance showed that the beauty, joy, and innovation of Brown’s work lives on and is just as affecting now as ever.