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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What did she tell you about the process?
She started by talking about the Opal Loop process and the transition into Trisha saying, “I’m making another big dance, we’re going to be on the BAM Opera House stage and I’m going to be working with music for the first time, and come with me and make the costumes.” So they were continuing their collaboration. And they had some designs they were talking about. And then Judd came into the picture and basically in his way dictated, “This is the set design, this is the color scheme—this is what the costumes should be in relation to the set.” I think Judith at that moment thought, Should I step out or should I continue with Trisha? She made the choice to continue and made her design take into account the whole Judd design. This just didn’t occur to me until she told me this whole story.

And you decided to go with her original design. What do they look like?

The general color scheme is gold with different degrees of reflectivity and different shades. Judith is so brilliant. For the six-person ensemble, she put together these fabric combinations. Every dancer is in a different fabric top and bottom, and the balance throughout the six dancers is so delicate and precise with the different lights and darks and degrees of reflectivity—some golds are more orange, and some golds are more green. She has the eye to discern all of that. And the Trisha-figure costume is all gold. That’s the only one like that. We had a casting shift mid-process and before we made the costume adaptation, we had the Trisha all-gold costume in the mix and it was just like, We can’t do this, it’s completely wrong! So it’s that delicate.

It’s like a painting?
Yeah. It’s taught me a lot actually. Judith came in and watched rehearsals and paid attention to what the dancers wear, what’s flattering on them, what they’re comfortable in, and she chose shapes that are incredibly flattering. There’s a lot of fluidity.

What about the other revival: Solo Olos from 1976?
The title is the word solo and then it’s written backward. Again, it’s working with reversal, so it’s interesting, but a completely different result. I’ll just start off by saying that the whole reconstruction process of Solo Olos has been an incredible experience for the dancers, for me, and I feel like Solo Olos should always be active.

Because it’s such a learning tool?

Yes. We just rotate dancers through it. Someone does it for a while and we have someone else ready to go in. Right now, we have seven dancers who can do it and only five perform at a time. It’s just really informative for the dancer to understand the compositional form as he or she is dancing—to have that head while you’re dancing, knowing that the caller is trying to create something. That when you get a call [or instruction] you know the form well enough from the inside. Certainly, it's for dancers to to develop their compositional eye.

It’s like live choreography.
Yeah. And I think it teaches the audience how to see and what works and what doesn’t work and why: Why do certain things really gel or not?

Can you explain what’s going on in it? 

There are three phrases that are known both forward and backward. They start off on the main phrase, which they continue on all the way to the end and reverse back to the beginning; if they never get called into the other two phrases that’s all they do. [The two phrases are “spill” and “branch.”] There’s a gate to go into spill, and there’s another gate to go into branch, so they can only be called into those two phrases at a very specific moment. It’s not just like, whatever. Both of those—branch and spill—have a gate where they reenter main, and it’s the same moment, the same gate, which makes it interesting. So they leave main at two different places and then they go back into main with the same movement. Trisha taught the main phrase and the branch phrase; the spill phrase was made by having the dancers follow movement instructions. So I have it typed out: “Take two steps backward, start to kneel, stretch up tall…” With this reconstruction, I thought here’s another opportunity for these dancers to be creative, so let’s have their own phrases in the spill section. This has not been done before. So they’re doing their spill.

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