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Zachary Lewis, The Plain Dealer  |  March 07, 2014

Trisha Brown Dance Company bids farewell to Cleveland with final tour performance (preview)

The legacy of the Trisha Brown Dance Company may lie in how it's handling its own legacy.

Faced with the gradual loss of its namesake, the troupe headed to PlayhouseSquare Saturday is transforming itself and adopting a new mission, all the while setting an example for arts groups everywhere.

"We're not closing," said associate artistic director Diane Madden. "We're trying to make it clear that we're going to keep the company going, but in a different shape. It's a creative time on many levels."

Performances like the one taking place Saturday will soon be a thing of the past. Soon after it became clear that Brown was no longer able to choreograph following a series of small strokes, the New York-based company made the choice to stop touring and shift its priorities to education and site-specific events.

But first: one last grand journey, one final round of concerts on all the major series like DanceCleveland on which Brown's creations over the last 40 years have had a major impact.

"Everywhere we go, we encounter dear friends and a real emotional connection," Madden said. "People are not ready to say goodbye to the work."

It's that work, in the abstract, that will be the company's new focus. Where so many dances fade with their choreographers, Brown's vast output stands to live and remain accessible for generations.

That's because an ambitious effort to document, catalog and store the relics of Brown's creative life is underway. Like a presidential library, the resulting collection is intended to serve as an invaluable resource for all who would consult it.

"We want it to be accurate and visible, and that creates some issues," Madden said. "But there's no question about the relevance of her work."

The relevance of Brown's work should certainly be visible to all who attend the performance Saturday. Between the program's four offerings, patrons new and old will gain an appreciation for just how broad and diverse was her output.

"Set and Reset," a septet from 1983, marks the beginning of the survey, followed by "If You Couldn't See Me," a 1994 solo originally performed by Brown herself and described by Madden as either "completely overwhelmingly or very fun."

"There's no sense of slowing down or pulling back. We're just cooking."

Two of Brown's last works, both from 2011, bring up the second half of the program. "I'm Going to Toss My Arms If You Catch Them They're Yours" is notable for its use of giant fans while "Les Yeux et L'ame" is a ballet declaring choreography's independence from music.

"It's really important people realize this is not a choreographer who had a hit and kept redoing it," Madden said. "She was always pushing the envelope."

One might assume, under the circumstances, that the Trisha Brown Dance Company is forlorn, sadly trudging along to an end clearly in sight. In fact, Madden said, the opposite is true.

While Brown's poor health and inability to work are indeed sad, the company itself is enjoying a strange kind of renaissance celebrating her life. In that way, they're modeling yet another and more healthy way of addressing the ephemeral nature of life and dance.

"There's almost a disconnect," Madden explained. "We're going strong and the dancers are performing beautifully. There's no sense of slowing down or pulling back. We're just cooking."


Trisha Brown Dance Company

What: On its farewell tour, the troupe performs iconic works from 1983 to 2011.

When: 8 p.m. Saturday, March 8.

Where: Ohio Theatre, PlayhouseSquare, 1501 Euclid Ave., Cleveland.

Tickets: $20-$70. Go to or call 216-241-6000.


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