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A sweeping tribute to a trailblazing choreographer

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If you want to see a dancer take her art form to a higher plane, look up. Way way up.
 
Amelia Rudolph, a choreographer and performer, took a gravity-defying stroll down the eight-story-high Eli and Edythe Broad Art Center Wednesday as if she were merely walking down a horizontal plane during a dress rehearsal for her performance scheduled for today at 6 p.m.
 
The founder and artistic director of Oakland-based BANDALOOP, a dance company that leads the way in vertical and aerial dance performance, Rudolph wore specialized rigging to perform "Man Walking Down the Side of a Building." The piece, conceived and choreographed by Trisha Brown, is one of Brown’s most simplistic, but thrilling works, first performed by Joseph Schlichter in 1970. It has since been seen at the Whitney Museum in New York and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and has been taken to dizzying heights by such dance greats as Stephen Petronio and Elizabeth Streb.  
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Choreographer Trisha Brown
Brown, one of the most widely acclaimed choreographers in postmodern dance, is now 76 and in ill health so, sadly, she won’t be among those who will gather this evening at the foot of the building to see Rudolph’s performance. But Brown’s adventurous spirit and zeal for risk-taking choreographic experimentation will permeate the campus and nearby venues for three weeks when the Center for the Art of Performance (CAP) at UCLA launches its most ambitious undertaking to date, "Trisha Brown Dance Company: The Retrospective Project," a dance spectacle with 12 of Brown’s works to be performed before audiences at five different venues, four of them at UCLA.
 
"To present 12 works by the same artist in this way is unprecedented," said Kristy Edmunds, artistic and executive director of CAP UCLA. "It’s also the biggest single program the company has ever done."
 
In a career that spans five decades, Brown, the creator of more than 100 dance works, burnished her reputation by pushing against the limits of choreography to revolutionize dance in the postmodern world. In recognition of her singular achievements and wide-ranging impact, she has received accolades from the highest levels, including the National Medal of Arts (2003), the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize (2011) and the title of Commandeur dans L’Ordre des Arts et Lettres from the French government (2004). She is the first woman choreographer to receive the MacArthur Foundation "genius" Fellowship. And she served on the National Council on the Arts from 1994 to 1997 at the invitation of President Bill Clinton.
 
But despite Brown’s lofty stature in the arts — felt most strongly in New York and Europe — her work remains relatively new to West Coast audiences, Edmunds explained. Over the course of 46 years, the Trisha Brown Dance Company has performed in the L.A. area only eight times, the first time in 1966 at the then-Los Angeles Museum of Art, later renamed the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
 
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"Floor of the Forest" will be presented at the Hammer Museum.
"That’s one of the reasons we felt it was particularly important to create a deeply contextual multi-venue, multi-experiential program honoring her work at the end of this phase of her career," said Edmunds, who said it was a great privilege for the center to be entrusted with the framing of Brown’s works.
 
"It’s especially appropriate for us to be honoring her with this retrospective," Edmunds said. "Four of those eight total performances occurred on this campus, presented by past iterations of our organization."
 
The ties between the Trisha Brown Dance Company and UCLA are further strengthened by other affiliations with Brown and her company. Simone Forti, adjunct professor of world arts and cultures/dance, collaborated with Brown on several early conceptual works. In "Planes" (1968), they climbed along and dangled from a prop wall to a soundtrack that featured Forti singing, accompanied by the pitched sounds of her vacuum cleaner.
 
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"Astral Converted" at Sunset Canyon Amphitheatre
Lionel Popkin, a former member and assistant director of Brown’s dance company, is currently an assistant professor in world arts and cultures/dance. Laurel Tentindo, a current UCLA dance student, also was in Brown’s company. She will perform in CAP UCLA’s presentation of Brown’s operatic piece, "Les Yeux et l’âme," on Sunday, April 7, in Royce Hall and will appear in next week’s remounting of "Roof Piece," the same work she performed in 2011 in New York City.
 
Brown’s innovative work will be presented at five sites: the Hammer Museum (March 30-April 21), Sunset Canyon Amphitheatre (April 4), the Broad Art Center (April 5), Royce Hall (April 5 and April 7) and the J. Paul Getty Museum (April 6).
 
•    The Retrospective Project will launch Saturday, March 30, at the Hammer with the unveiling of an installation, “Floor of the Forest,” in the museum’s courtyard. The installation, which consists of a sculptural steel frame that holds up a web of ropes threaded with colorful discarded clothing, becomes the dancers’ “stage.” Kept at audience eye level, the frame creates a soft platform for dancers who will weave their way across the structure, pausing long enough to “hang” in a cocoon or hammock of clothing. Dancers from UCLA’s Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance will perform this piece, created by Brown and Carmen Beuchat, three or four times a day Thursdays through Sundays. Admission is free. See this schedule.

•    First performed on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, “Astral Converted” exemplifies Brown’s longstanding creative collaboration with iconic American visual artist Robert Rauschenberg and her experimentation with new technology. Sculptural towers designed by Rauschenberg house dynamic lighting within a mobile set built largely of automotive supplies. Motion sensors detect the presence of dancers and respond to the movement so that members of the Trisha Brown Dance Company are in full control of the production cues. Thursday, April 4, at 8 p.m. at the open-air Sunset Canyon Amphitheatre. $10 general admission.

•    To see “Man Walking Down the Side of a Building,” spectators will gather Friday, April 5, at 6 p.m. at the foot of the Broad Art Center near the Richard Serra sculpture. You can see a video of Petronio performing “Man Walking” at the Whitney Museum in New York in 2010.

•    A panel discussion before a Royce Hall performance of Program A will bring together Forti, Popkin, Tentindo, Rudolph and moderator Edmunds for a conversation about Brown’s work and her influence on contemporary choreographers and dance-makers. Friday, April 5, at 7 p.m. Royce Hall Terrace. Free.

•    
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"Set and Reset"
Program A features the Trisha Brown Dance Company performing four of Brown’s iconic works at Royce Hall on April 5 at 8 p.m.:
     “Set and Reset” is performed to a driving score by Laurie Anderson. Brown’s exploration of visibility and invisibility is reflected in the translucent costumes, a set by Rauschenberg and the seductively fluid quality of the movement, juxtaposed against the unpredictable geometric style that is a hallmark of Brown’s work.
     “Watermotor” leaves behind the starkness of Brown’s postmodern “task” dances and presages the rich movement phrases used in the pieces that follow it. Said Brown, who performed it in 1978 and in 2000: “It is unpredictable, personal, articulate, dense, changeful, wild-assed. My model was improvisation … difficult to memorize. Don’t look directly at what you are doing. Totally physical.”
     “Foray Forêt” is one of Brown’s most requested works and highlights another collaboration with Rauschenberg, featuring gold costumes and an open stage. Outside Royce Hall will be the Hamilton High School Marching Yankee Band playing John Philip Sousa music.
     “I’m going to toss my arms — if you catch them they’re yours” is Brown’s most recent and final work for the company. It features music by composer Alvin Curran and a striking set design by Burt Barr.

•   "Roof Piece" will be performed twice on Saturday, April 6, at the Getty Center, at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. This is the first presentation of this ambitious work on the West Coast. Dancers will perform Brown’s signature movement amid and atop
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In "Roof Piece," dancers were positioned atop buildings in Soho in New York City.
structures and buildings at the Getty Center. As originally performed in 1971, 12 dancers were placed atop roofs in a 10-block area of New York’s SoHo. Improvised gestures, more or less stationary, were duplicated by the next dancer in line. The movement was transmitted dancer-by-dancer for 15 minutes. Then the movement stopped and reversed direction along the chain of dancers for 15 minutes. A 35-minute screening of “Roof Piece,” as it was re-mounted in 2011 on the New York High Line, will be shown at 11 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. in the Getty’s Museum Lecture Hall. Both the performances and the screenings are free.

•  Program B, the final performance by Brown’s company on Sunday, April 7, at 2 p.m. at Royce Hall, begins with a piece that evolved when she shifted to yet another sphere of dance. By the 1990s, Brown had already amassed a reputation for avant-garde collaborations with cutting-edge designers and composers when she again set out on a new path, this time, choreographing for famed European opera companies.
      One of Brown’s pieces, “Les Yeux et l’ame,” an adaptation of her “Pygmalion,” follows this breakaway trajectory.
      Other dance works to be featured in Program B:
     “Rogues,” a recent work inspired by Brown’s exploration of sculpture, calligraphy and knots, shows that all three-dimensional images can be experimented with on the body.
     In “Spanish Dance,” a dancer slowly raises her arms like a magnificent Spanish dancer and travels forward in time to the sound of Bob Dylan’s “Early Mornin’ Rain.” That starts a progression of movement taken up by other dancers, who become fellow travelers.
     “Newark,” widely considered one of Brown's most seminal works, features her collaboration with painter/installation artist Donald Judd and post-minimalist composer Peter Zummo. He has created a uniquely spartan soundscape for Brown's precise movement that draws sharp lines based on the vertical, horizontal, circular and diagonal division of a square.
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To see a complete schedule of the retrospective, go here.
 
 
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