Dancer Cecily Campbell is alone on stage when you begin to hear it: the faint sound of a brass band wafting through the silence. Is it the ordinary hustle and bustle of New York City, on the street outside the theater, or part of the dance?
In her 40-year career, choreographer Trisha Brown produced a vast body of work full of mischief, mystery and surprise. Her musical concept for “Foray Forêt” – to send a marching band past the stage – is among her craftiest and most delectable choices, embodies how she was able to wring layers of meaning from a seemingly simple idea.
On Tuesday, in a pandemic-delayed celebration of its 50th birthday, the Trisha Brown Dance Company at the Joyce Theater brought back that 1990 gem and “Astral Converted” (1991), two works Brown successively created with the artist Robert Rauschenberg. , her co-worker and friend. More than 30 years later, both are silently dazzling examples of boundless, intricate movement invention in luminescent visual and sonic landscapes.
With associate artistic director Carolyn Lucas at the helm, the current company includes dancers who are both well-versed in Brown’s body of work and much newer. Although that variation was sometimes visible, they jointly tackled the complex challenges of this program.
A charm of “Foray” is the contrast between the smooth, understated movement – performed by a cast of nine in Rauschenberg’s airy, metallic costumes – and the larger images of ritual and revelry evoked by the sound of the band. Brown worked with a vocabulary she called “delicate aberrations,” and small gestures repeatedly catch the eye, such as palms cutting the air in a scalloped motion, or a forearm folding into a rib.
But even the more extravagant moves – sudden daring jumps or tips off center – unfurl with the ease and inevitability for which Brown’s work is known, with one action effortlessly igniting the next. In a duet for Campbell and Stuart Shugg, two of the troupe’s most experienced and compelling members, she bumps him with her hip and then hooks a foot around his ankle, the kind of quick disturbance and rebalancing that occurs time and again. .
Barely audible at first, the Jina Brass Band (directed by Sunny Jain) gets louder as she pulls around the edges of the theater, still out of sight. The distant music makes the dance feel like a secret we know, as if we’ve slipped behind the scenes of a carnival-esque event. When the five musicians finally appear, just before the end, they are as inconspicuous as the rest of the dance, coming and going like a light summer rain.
In ‘Astral Converted’ (an evolution of Brown’s earlier ‘Astral Convertible’), nine dancers share the stage with a collection of Rauschenberg’s skeletal aluminum towers. These luminous structures respond to motion sensors on the dancers’ costumes: silver unitards, also by Rauschenberg, with glittering bands between the legs for the women. That curious detail, which makes the women look more limited, is the only part of this work that hasn’t aged well.
Brown created “Astral Converted” for the outdoor stage on Washington’s National Mall, thinking about what an aerial view might look like. The result, in addition to an additional John Cage score, couples devious, sculptural movement on the ground — the dancers could be deep-sea creatures — with high-speed standing phrases, sometimes making clever use of two brooms as dance partners. On Tuesday, there was dancing in what felt like a focused deference to Brown, who passed away in 2017. If anything was missing, it was the desolation that can be lost amid such careful rebuilding.
Trisha Brown Dance Company
See you May 29 at the Joyce Theater, joyce.org.