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Dance and Music Reviews : Brown Brings Retrospective Program to Royce Hall

Time can be unkind to radicals. Take post-Cunningham dance doyenne Trisha Brown, whose company wound up a retrospective 20th-anniversary tour with two different programs over the weekend at Royce Hall, UCLA.

In the early ‘70s, when it was new, Brown’s “Sticks” impressed observers as a serious, laborious task-oriented piece in which five women, lying head-to-foot in a line, made a daisy chain of poles held above their bodies. The job was to complete a revolution without breaking the connections.

Friday, when the piece was viewed as incorporated into the composite work, “Line Up,” the audience laughed. And why not? Seen after Brown’s high-energy “Set and Reset” (sets by Robert Rauschenberg; music by Laurie Anderson), such intense fixation on basic activity struck many as a deliberate joke.

Only as “Line Up” continued its prolonged abstract movement demands did audience members succumb to its severity. People begin to leave steadily, a sign of Brown’s ability to challenge audiences.

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No one laughed at Brown’s “Astral Convertible” (1989), which received its Los Angeles premiere on Saturday, however. But neither did the piece work as well as intended.

Rauschenberg again provided a set, this one consisting of eight metal frames, ranging from 2 to 8 feet in height, supporting headlights, speakers and sensors.

Dressed in metallic silvery tights to activate the sensors and thus change Ken Tabachnick’s lighting designs and Richard Landry’s sound score were four men (Lance Gries, Gregory Lara, Wil Swanson and David Thomson) and five women (Nicole Juralewicz, Carolyn Lucas, Diane Madden, Lisa Schmidt and Shelley Senter).

Changes did occur, but the connections with the dancers’ movements remained unclear (one man could cross the stage without noticeable changes). Any notion of confrontation with technology had to be taken on faith.

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Fortunately, there were movement dividends. “Astral” opened with emphasis on gravity, with two lines of dancers on the floor, rolling over, extending arms upward in parallel or wave movements, eventually rising. The tempo picked up and soon the dancers were making flying bounds and leaps, occasional deliberate collisions or, in a striking image, a unison cartwheel by a man and a woman. Before ending, the work offered a sequence of interlocking shapes and piled-on constructions.

The dancers here, as elsewhere in the engagement, looked terrific.

Brown’s “Newark (Niweweorce)” (1987), on the Friday program, also was new to Los Angeles audiences. (The title is a pun on “New Work” and a reference to a Newark in England spelled in Anglo-Saxon times as Niweweorce.) Geography, however, plays little part in the piece except as Donald Judd’s brightly colored backdrops rise and fall to redefine the stage space (Judd also created the sound score, which alternates buzzing drones and silence).

Rather, Brown seemed intent upon juxtaposing and ultimately integrating contrasting movement qualities, with Gries and Lara initially executing slow, heavy parallel movements as Juralewicz, Lucas, Madden and Senter darted in and out; and ending in weighty athletic partnering challenges.

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“Lateral Pass” and “Opal Loop,” seen on previous company tours, completed the programs.


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