TRISHA BROWN REPERTORY WITH SHELLEY SENTER AND "GLACIAL DECOY"
By Lieve De Pourcq
We are a group of women and one man. The group includes members of all ages, but mainly young women who are eager to move. We start the intensive course by watching the video of Trisha Brown's "Glacial Decoy." It is a quartet of women recorded in 1979. The piece consists of one big movement phrase repeated twice in different constellations and possibly with some alterations. This is the first piece Trisha Brown created for a proscenium and exactly this is also one of her inspirations.
"Glacial Decoy" starts with four women dancing in a line. Since the phrase moves from left to right and back, one of the dancers on either side appears or disappears from the audiences' view. It creates the impression that there is an endless line of dancers, executing the same dance, but you only see a few of them at the same time.
The women wear white dresses and white sleeves that bubble around their bodies when they dance. Although it is hardly visible on the recording, you can see the dancers' bodies through their clothes. You see the white dresses creating round shapes around their fluid bodies, drawing lines in space. Both, set design and costume design, were created by Robert Rauschenberg. He played with projections in the background, supporting the architectural lines of the movement. Before the whole set and costume design was there, the piece was called "Decoy", add set and clothes: "Glacial Decoy."
After the watching, the doing begins. The whole weekend consists of learning and dancing the material of the piece, working on the philosophy of Trisha Brown's dance vocabulary and trying to incorporate it into the body; while at the same time dancing the material together, depending on each other, something, I have the impression, that is done less and less.
We lie on our backs to activate the back, we dance to warm-up for dancing; we would do sit-ups if we wanted to warm up for sit-ups. It is a very simple approach, but it seems to work. You are responsible for your own body and the movement material is physically not that demanding. On top of that, this movement style becomes more alive the less energy you use. So when you only half-dance the material, this is when the dance is in its ideal state! (Seems like the ideal workshop for either the tired or the lazy student.)
The movement quality is very organic in relation to the body. There is a certain movement logic that you hardly have to control, you just let it flow through the body, without thinking, the body will continue the movement and voila!: the next movement comes in without the least bit of effort! Sometimes dancing really does feel like magic!
The musicality, rhythm of the dance depends on the weight of the body's limbs. The fun thing is that within this supposed restriction there is room to play. If you have to dance with a very tall or very short person, the weight of that person's limbs is obviously different. So to still dance "uni-sono" and stay true to Trisha Brown's dance philosophy is like dancing on a rope: exciting!
The movements themselves play with pedestrian (or as Shelley Senter would call it "human"), theatrical and more dancey material, some things are inspired by ballet with a twist of nonchalance. To me this movement style seems like a very democratic way of dancing, the movements are simple; nearly everybody can do them. As long as you allow your body to be how it is. Which can be an extremely hard thing to do, though it may sound so easy.
Virtuosity within simplicity. Even though the movements are extremely simple and easy for the body to remember, they are also extremely exact and detailed. Hands are held in a certain position, the body (in this piece) is mostly facing frontal. The angles or positioning of the body are based on the grid, basically all angles are 90° or 45°, either facing north, east, south, west or south-west, north-east, north-west or south-west. If you know this, it is hard to get lost, but you need to stay aware. It is this clarity within simplicity that creates virtuosity.
Being human and open in the doing, not zombie-like. One thing that Senter was stressing a lot and which I had never been aware of before: not blindly staring ahead when you're concentrating hard. It happens so easily that I am completely absorbed by the desire to perform a task that the world around me ceases to exist. Shelley Senter was very actively working against that. With endless patience, she would remind us to look around, open our eyes and interact with whatever was happening around us, not only when dancing, but at all times.
The dancing therefore becomes an experience and not just an execution of material. And I have to say that I personally enjoyed this approach very much. At first, I was a bit shy when it came to looking around and seeing people watching us. As a result, I would forget the material and feel even more embarrassed, but after a while you start to accept the situation and it becomes enjoyable to not avoid the other peoples' eyes, to see the trees moving and watch the girl next to you smile at you while dancing. I know, it sounds quite cheesy, but hey, I managed to step out of my zombie style!
The hours were passing by, we learned a great deal of material and just repeated and repeated. That might sound boring for an onlooker, but for me it was very exciting to get the time to feel the movements pass through my body, to play around with them and to get to know the people through dancing together. Finally we managed to find a similar rhythm of movement and managed to keep the same distance to each other. Neither through talking and agreeing on rules nor by trying to control the situation, but just by repeating and looking around, staying aware of the person next to us and adapting if necessary. Layers of simplicity.
(August 20, 2008)