Trisha Brown, the American dancer and choreographer who did much to bring contemporary dance into the visual arts, died on 18 March in San Antonio, Texas after a long illness. She was 80.
Brown’s work was hugely influential with an impact across the worlds of art and dance. Born in rural Aberdeen, Washington, she moved to New York in 1961 where she became part of the interdisciplinary art scene, expanding notions of ‘dance’ as she incorporated everyday movements and what looked like improvisation into her choreography.
In 1970 she founded the Trisha Brown Dance Company – until 1980 an all-female company – and throughout the 1970s performed works in galleries, museums and international art exhibitions.
Brown’s most well-known work is 1983’s Set and Reset – a collaboration with long-time friend Robert Rauschenberg and the musician Laurie Anderson. (Brown had first worked with Rauschenberg in 1979 on the piece, Glacial Decoy.) Set and Reset premiered as part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival and brought Brown international recognition.
Other artists Brown worked with included Fujiko Nakaya, Nancy Graves, Terry Winters and Elizabeth Murray. For 1987’s Newark (Niweweorce) she collaborated with Donald Judd, who designed the sets, costumes and sound score for the production.
Speaking to The Guardian in 2012, Brown was asked whether artists are ‘too often expected to conform to just one art form’. She said: “I’ve never been worried about what is expected of me. When I first arrived in New York, much of my work was reacting against convention, pretension, romanticism and sentimentality. It was about art. Not visual art or dance art – just art.”
As well as her work as a dancer and choreographer, Brown was also a visual artist and her drawings have been exhibited internationally.
Brown continued dancing until 2008 when she performed in I Love My Robots, which featured visual design by Kenjiro Okazaki and sound by Laurie Anderson. Her 2011 work, I’m going to toss my arms – if you catch them they’re yours, was the last dance she created.
In 1993, Brown told the dancer and filmmaker Yvonne Rainer: “I create an environment that allows my dancers to pitch themselves at an idea. If they do it, I use it or redirect it; if they don’t, I come up with another idea.”
Writing in Village Voice in 2010, Deborah Jowitt said of Brown’s choreography: “Works by Brown don’t just challenge our perceptions; they expand our minds and untether our spirits.”
Trisha Brown, 1936-2017. www.trishabrowncompany.org