After graduating from Mills College in Oakland, California, studying with Anna Halprin and teaching at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, Trisha Brown moved to New York City in 1961. Instantly immersed in what was to become the post-modern phenomena of Judson Dance Theater, her movement investigations found the extraordinary in the everyday and challenged existing perceptions of what constitutes performance. In this “hot-bed of dance revolution”, Brown, along with like-minded artists, pushed the limits of choreography thereby changing modern dance forever.
Trisha Brown in Set and Reset, 1996
Photo by Chris Callis
Trisha Brown (Founding Artistic Director and Choreographer) was born and raised in Aberdeen, Washington. She graduated from Mills College in Oakland, California in 1958; studied with Anna Halprin; and taught at Reed College in Portland, Oregon before moving to New York City in 1961. Instantly immersed in what was to become the post-modern phenomena of Judson Dance Theater, her movement investigations found the extraordinary in the everyday and challenged existing perceptions of performance. Brown, along with like-minded artists, pushed the limits of choreography and changed modern dance forever.
In 1970, Brown formed her company and explored the terrain of her adoptive SoHo making Man Walking Down the Side of a Building (1970), and Roof Piece (1971). Her first work for the proscenium stage, Glacial Decoy (1979), was also the first of many collaborations with Robert Rauschenberg. Opal Loop/Cloud Installation #72503 (1980), created with fog designer Fujiko Nakaya, was followed by Son of Gone Fishin’ (1981), which featured sets by Donald Judd. The now iconic Set and Reset (1983), with original music by Laurie Anderson and visual design by Robert Rauschenberg, completed Brown’s first fully developed cycle of work, Unstable Molecular Structure. This cycle epitomized the fluid yet unpredictably geometric style that remains a hallmark of her work. Brown then began her relentlessly athletic Valiant Series, best exemplified by the powerful Newark (1987) and Astral Convertible (1989) – pushing her dancers to their physical limits and exploring gender-specific movement. Next came the elegant and mysterious Back to Zero cycle in which Brown pulled back from external virtuosity to investigate unconscious movement. This cycle includes Foray Forêt (1990), and For M.G.: The Movie (1991). Brown collaborated for the final time with Rauschenberg to create If you couldn’t see me (1994), in which she danced entirely with her back to the audience.
Brown turned her attention to classical music and opera production, initiating what is known as her Music cycle. Choreographed to J.S. Bach’s monumental Musical Offering, M.O. (1995) was hailed as a “masterpiece” by Anna Kisselgoff of the New York Times. Brown continued to work with new collaborators, including visual artist Terry Winters and composer Dave Douglas, with whom she created El Trilogy (2000). She then worked with long-time friend and artist, Elizabeth Murray to create PRESENT TENSE (2003) set to music by John Cage.
Brown stepped into the world of opera to choreograph Carmen (1986) and again to direct Claudio Monteverdi's L’Orfeo (1998). Since then, Brown has gone on to direct four more operas, including, Luci Mie Traditrici (2001), Winterreise (2002), and Da Gelo a Gelo (2006) and most recently, Pygmalion (2010).
Continuing to venture into new terrain, Brown created O zlożony/O composite (2004) for three étoiles of the Paris Opera Ballet, working with long-time collaborators Laurie Anderson and Jennifer Tipton. Forays into new technology created the witty and sophisticated I love my robots (2007), with Japanese artist and robotics designer Kenjiro Okazaki. Her work with Pygmalion produced two dance pieces L’Amour au théâtre (2009) and Les Yeux et l'âme (2011). Brown’s last work, I’m going to toss my arms- if you catch them they’re yours (2011), is a collaboration with visual artist Burt Barr, whose striking set is dominated by industrial fans. The original music is by Alvin Curran.
As well as being a prolific choreographer, Brown was an accomplished visual artist, as experienced in It’s a Draw (2002). Her drawings have been seen in exhibitions, galleries and museums throughout the world including the Venice Biennale, The Drawing Center in Philadelphia, The New Museum, White Cube, Documenta XII, Walker Art Center, Centre Georges Pompidou, Mills College, Musée d'art Contemporain de Lyon, and Museum of Modern Art. Brown was represented by Sikkema Jenkins & Co. in NYC.
Trisha Brown has created over 100 dance works since 1961, and was the first woman choreographer to receive the coveted MacArthur Foundation Fellowship “Genius Award.” She has been awarded many other honors including five fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, two John Simon Guggenheim Fellowships, Brandeis University’s Creative Arts Medal in Dance, and she has been named a Veuve Clicquot Grande Dame. In 1988, Brown was named Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres by the government of France. In January 2000, she was promoted to Officier and in 2004, she was again elevated, this time to the level of Commandeur. She was a 1994 recipient of the Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award and, at the invitation of President Bill Clinton, served on the National Council on the Arts from 1994 to 1997. In 1999, Brown received the New York State Governor’s Arts Award and, in 2003, was honored with the National Medal of Arts. She had the prestigious honor to serve as a Rolex Arts Initiative Mentor for 2010-11 as well as receiving the S.L.A.M. Action Maverick Award presented by Elizabeth Streb, and the Capezio Ballet Makers Dance Foundation Award in 2010. She has received numerous honorary doctorates, is an Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and was awarded the 2011 New York Dance and Performance ‘Bessie’ Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2011, Brown was honored with the prestigious Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize for making an “outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life.” In 2012, Brown became a United States Artists Simon Fellow and received the first Robert Rauschenberg Award from the Foundation of Contemporary Arts. In recent years, she was honored with the BOMB Magazine Award.