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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How do you decide who the caller is?
At this point, I haven’t decided who’s doing it at NYLA. I’ve been very generous with the process, thinking the more people who have this experience the better. There are certainly some people who take to it more readily than others. It’s like a video game. You have to have a head for it. But one other thing that’s fantastic is when I’m surprised. For instance, I was watching Cecily [Campbell’s] call and thinking, What is she doing? And then something would happen that I had never seen before. And it’s like getting inside someone’s compositional head and going, Oh my God, look at that! [Laughs] I’m loving that aspect of it. I do have a plan to narrow it down, but I’m keeping it open for now. I definitely need to choose the most confident. I need to be able to rely on the caller. It’s improvised. There’s a risk involved, but I feel like we’re in good shape.

You are also reconstructing Opal Loop/Cloud Installation #72503. Isn’t it a partial reconstruction?

Yeah. We did it a few years ago. Elena Demyanenko and Sam Wentz have left the company, but they’re coming back to fill in so that’s great. More and more, we’re keeping connections to our dancers. I think it’s nice for them, and to have dancers who have been inside and outside the company rubbing off on each other—I think there’s a mutual appreciation and understanding, so it’s socially positive as well as aesthetically.

Is there an actual Trisha Brown Dance Company? 
Yeah. We’re a solid group of nine right now. We have an apprentice, and we have some dancers who are leaving, so we’re looking for a new woman.

How will the company continue in the future? 
This is what I’m not going to get into with you. But we are in the midst of a proscenium tour right now of showing Trisha’s stage works. We were just in Hong Kong and at the Walker. I think it’s really interesting to have Opal Loop and Son of Gone Fishin’ on the same program. They’re from the same cycle [“Unstable Molecular Structure,” which was inspired by words that begin with the letter s: sexy, sequential, seamless, silky, sensual], but they’re also both made in completely different ways. The process was very different, and I just think it’s important to recognize that range in Trisha’s work. And also the way in which the collaboration affects the final work: the Judith Shea costumes and the sound for Son of Gone Fishin’ and the fog [by Japanese fog artist Fujiko Nakaya] for Opal, which is in silence.

You said that the process for Opal Loop was different? How so?
Trisha came in and taught phrases, and the dancers improvised with the phrases and set them, so it is the same as Son of Gone Fishin’, but it’s like taking out the reversal aspect. I can’t even say it’s looser because it is just as detailed and specific as anything. It just doesn’t look it. There’s a beautiful section at the end where the middle is an interference-partnering duet. One dancer is interfering with the other, and that movement is from a Steve Paxton improvisation. The thing that’s really cool about it is that Trisha abstracted that section of a performance that Steve did at DTW. It’s not exactly the same stage. But it’s in the same place.

This program seems like a shift in direction: I like how fresh it feels even though the work is old.
Everyone’s eyes are on us, like, Now what? What are you guys doing? It’s so important to me to make the right choices and keep it alive in a way that has integrity. It’s important for them. If they’re not happy, it’s not going to work. And it’s scary—it’s a lot of responsibility.

Isn’t that the crisis of keeping older dances alive?
People say, how do you know what to do? But you know Trisha asked me to be rehearsal director in 1984. I’ve been figuring it out. I remember 20 years ago when dancers challenged me about using the video to keep Set and Reset alive. It’s like, Okay, there’s a fine line here—how much do you hold on to what those six dancers did in 1983 and how much do you need to go underneath it, to really understand what Trisha was going after? How do I do that now? I’ve been working on that for a long time.
Trisha Brown Dance Company is at New York Live Arts Apr 8–13.

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