Q&A: Diane Madden talks about the Trisha Brown Dance Company's NYLA performances

Diane Madden talks about the Trisha Brown Dance Company's historic program at New York Live Arts

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Son of Gone Fishin’ is highly structured—it’s performed forward and backward—but it looks loose and free-flowing. What’s the movement quality?
For me, it’s Trisha Brown technique 101 in terms of tumbling verticality and weighted jointedness: how to stack your skeleton and how to continue to gain support of the floor when you find movement in your joints. Then, there’s the process of reversing it—falling, crumbling and stacking back up. As a dancer, that was huge, because I was coming from years of rejecting technique and effort and rolling around on the floor and improvising. Effort was like [She crosses her arms in front of her chest], and I learned that effort can be very functional. It got me past my prejudice. For me to un-fall—I don’t have the benefit of gravity, so I have to use something. I have to use an extension into space, I have to use the floor. That’s an effort that is very functional, otherwise I don’t think I’d be able to do this. [Laughs]

It’s crazy when you grasp what’s going on.

And that’s the other piece of it: It is impossible. We’re not film. You cannot really un-fall. How do you re-create the dynamic of a jump in a reverse direction? I don’t know if a body can do that. But you still try.

And on my side of the stage, all it takes is catching a glimpse of an impossible act that makes you want to keep watching. Do you know what I mean?
Yeah, yeah, yeah! It makes it fascinating. That’s something that came up earlier when I was talking to Nick [Strafaccia]. His role is Stephen’s, and it’s very dense. Stephen was just busy, busy, busy. Yesterday he was struggling with that a little bit. He said, “I feel like I have too much movement crammed into a short period of time,” so I just made the simple suggestion: “Why don’t you try marking it? You’re probably using too much energy?” I checked in with him today, and he said it felt better but he said, “I really do need to go through all of my reverse movement, because I feel like I’m faking it a little bit.” No one wants to feel like they’re faking anything when they’re performing, so that’s right—that’s the work to be done. The thing that’s tricky about it is that we were improvising in all directions, so it’s not like you get to get into a reversal mode for a while. You hit this moment, and then the next moment you’re going forward for a few seconds and then you’re rehearsing again and you’re using a little bit of reverse initiator to go forward. It’s hard work. The other thing is that Set and Reset came after Son of Gone Fishin’, and I believe that the reason Set and Reset was as good as it was was because of all the work that we did on Son of Gone Fishin.’ We had walked over the coals! But I think Son of Gone Fishin’ is a masterpiece too.

You got to perform it with live music the first night, right?

Yes! I’m so sad about Bob [Robert Ashley] passing. I was in the process of getting in touch with him, but he was so ill. I regret that. Having live music is always a richer experience. It’s another partner in the space and he kind of helped us keep that going even though he wasn’t on tour with us by giving us so many different versions of his music so we ended up with a total of nine. We have lost track of them, and we’re back down to the original three but I think that’s enough to choose from.

You spoke a bit about the movement quality. What are you most trying to instill in these dancers?

An authenticity. The whole forward-and-reverse aspect of it—I’m a stickler for being accurate, and I feel it’s in the accuracy that a lot of the playfulness is present. One helps the other. I don’t know if the dancers always agree with me. You might have heard me give them a note about how we’ve been thinking about the bigger picture and the form and their connections and how to make it all work, but now we have to go back into the crumbling, the weightedness, the expansiveness. It’s the how. You’re in the right place at the right time; now let’s go back to how are you getting there? I’m really a purist in that sense and the authenticity aspect of it, which in my eyes only empowers them as performers. Then they really have authorship of every moment. The more they get into the deeper how, the more choice they have. And then I see them. I see real people. I see a transparency. That’s my goal.

What’s going on when they bump into each other?
It’s just a playfulness. It’s all choreographed. An un-bump is really hard! [Laughs] The subtext! When you look at the people who made the dance, Stephen Petronio and Eva Karczag were an item at one time, and Randy Warshaw and I were an item at one time, so when I teach the dancers I feel like I have to tell a little story about what’s going on really. You’ll notice that there’s maybe a little more physicality between those roles than in the other ones. All that life is in there. 

I know you’re not using the set, but Judith Shea, the original designer, is creating new costumes for this revival. How is she remaking them?

We knew that by choosing Son of Gone Fishin’ there would be many houses that wouldn’t have fly space [for the set], so we just accepted that. I went into my meeting with Judith Shea—because we have the original costumes—thinking, Okay, I’m just going to touch base with you, and we’re going to talk about remaking these for this group of dancers. And at the same time, she’s an original collaborator and I don’t get to talk to those people so much anymore. They’re not around. So I took advantage of the opportunity to sort of do an oral history and said, “Just tell me everything.” I cannot tell you how generous she has been in terms of sharing the whole process. She designed the costume for Opal Loop, so there will be two dances with her costume designs on the program.

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