Bridge Project 2016: Ten Artists Respond to Trisha Brown’s Locus

By Heather Desaulniers

October 1, 2016, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE
Trisha Brown Dance Company. Photo courtesy of TBDC
Trisha Brown Dance Company. Photo courtesy of TBDC

Bridges are a big part of the Bay Area’s landscape. From the spectacular vistas of the Golden Gate to the new Bay Bridge and many more, bridges link this region together. They span; they join; they facilitate the journey from one place to another. Here and everywhere, bridges are about connection and connecting.

Hope Mohr Dance’s aptly named Bridge Project lives fully in this spirit of connection. Conceived by Artistic Director Hope Mohr, the Bridge Project builds an intentional space for artistic connection; an incubator to encourage and foster creative exchange. Since its debut in 2010, each Bridge Project has invited different artists to participate in a unique combination of lectures, workshops, panels, classes and performances, all centered on a particular theme.

While every Bridge Project is distinct, a number of common objectives inform them all. First is the convergence of the past and present. “Lineage and legacy are a through-line for me, and I want to bring notable, iconic dance artists, especially women, to enter into dialogue with the current contemporary dance community,” shares Mohr. To that end, past Bridge Projects have welcomed post-modern powerhouses like Simone Forti, Anna Halprin and Deborah Hay to work with today’s emerging and established choreographic voices. For Mohr, geography is another major consideration, “I feel strongly that Bay Area artmaking be put in a national context and that the community here be in conversation with artists that work in different parts of the country.” And so, Mohr looks outward for inspiration, engaging dance practitioners from other regions, like East Coast-based artists Molissa Fenley and Susan Rethorst (2010 and 2013 Bridge Project, respectively).

Rarity also plays an important part in the Bridge Project, as does education. “I want to present work that wouldn’t otherwise be presented, like non-proscenium work, work from artists that have been flying under the radar or artists that aren’t typically presented by bigger organizations,” Mohr notes, “and I see engagement, through workshops and classes, to be as relevant as the performances themselves, functioning as an educational and historic frame to enter into and experience the work.” Connecting eras, connecting locations, increasing awareness and sharing information — this is Hope Mohr Dance’s Bridge Project.

In October, this groundbreaking curatorial program turns its attention to Locus, a 1975 dance choreographed by Trisha Brown, originally created as a quartet and ultimately performed as a solo (under a new title — Locus Solo). And in turning to this dance, the Bridge Project adds yet another level of connection — a connection between disciplines. For 2016’s edition, which is produced in association with Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA), ten artists from six different fields have been commissioned to respond to the original Locus. Under the expert guidance of Trisha Brown Dance Company’s (TBDC) Associate Artistic Director Diane Madden, dancers, performance artists, choreographers, visual artists, musicians and literary artists will learn Locus and then craft their own work in response. As well, Hope Mohr Dance (HMD) will host a two-day public workshop, and from its participants, Madden will select four individuals to learn and perform Locus Solo. On October 14th and 15th, the ten responses will come together with the four soloists (two of whom will dance Locus Solo on Friday and two on Saturday) in an evening concert at YBCA’s Forum space. By including Locus Solo alongside the ten multidisciplinary premieres, these performances make it possible to simultaneously witness restaging and responding. “I think there is an important difference between restaging historical works and responding to them; here, I am intentionally creating a container in which both approaches can exist side-by-side,” explains Mohr.

Locus is ideal for the Bridge Project equation. It was choreographed by a post-modern pioneer (lineage), brings New York’s Trisha Brown Dance Company into discussion with Bay Area artists (geography), can be broadly applied (along with the open workshop and performances, there will be a public talk) and it is indeed rare. According to TBDC’s Performance Chronology, the last time Locus was performed on the West Coast was back in 1977 at UC Berkeley.

Madden describes Locus as “the epitome of Brown’s masterful layered choreography and playful dynamic movement; as one watches the precise lyrical momentum of this dance, a fascinating spatial logic, lying just beneath its fluid surface, emerges.” Mohr agrees, adding that Locus is “a distillation of Brown’s movement vocabulary; a sculptural expression of how the body relates to space and the environment.” Over the past forty years, the dance has evolved and taken on different forms, yet every version has one thing in common. They all follow the same fundamental blueprint: Locus’ detailed written score. “With Locus, Brown wanted to take herself out of the decision-making process and so she devised a score, mapping her movement spatially, making it possible to teach the dance and transfer it to other bodies,” relays Madden. Brown’s score provides the directions and parameters for Locus. It designates the geometric and architectural dimensions of an invisible cube within which the dance takes place. It lays out twenty-seven points of articulation in space (twenty-six for each letter of the alphabet and one acting as a space bar). It outlines tasks, cues and movement phrases. And Locus’ score also affirms Brown’s commitment to cross-pollinating artistic practices and fields, “Locus is multi-disciplinary,” details Mohr, “its score holds a text-based autobiographical statement, a strong visual art aspect and clear, accessible choreography.”

With the multi-genre nature of the source material, “it made sense to commission artists to respond to the dance from a variety of disciplines,” says Mohr. And she wanted that multi-disciplinary character to also be present in the selection process. Rather than choosing all ten contributors herself, Mohr reached out for insight, “we democratized the nominating procedure so that the pool of commissioned artists came from a broad swath of the Bay Area artistic community.” Here are the phenomenal artists selected to respond to Brown’s Locus: Xandra Ibarra (performance art / nominated by Keith Hennessy), Affinity Project (theater / nominated by Erika Chong Shuch), Cheryl Leonard (new music / nominated by Pamela Z), Amy Foote (new music / nominated by Adam Fong), Peiling Kao (choreography / nominated by Dohee Lee), Gerald Casel (choreography / nominated by HMD), Tracy Taylor Grubbs (visual arts / nominated by HMD), Frances Richard (poetry / nominated by HMD), Gregory Dawson (choreography / nominated by YBCA) and Larry Arrington (choreography / nominated by HMD).

Madden is excited to get into the studio with this eclectic group and delve into Locus, “we will be looking deeply at this composition, with a desire to understand it and Brown’s work more fully; my wish is that there is something in Locus that speaks to each of [the participating artists], whether it is the choreography, the bare physicality or something else entirely, something that I would never see or think of.” And yet, Madden knows that these studio sessions will not be typical. For starters, dancers and non-dancers alike will be entering into this repertory, and so Madden’s pedagogy will be about adapting and pulling information from a variety of angles, “I want everyone to have a physical experience of the choreography, in whatever way they can; I want to bring each person to the dance and the dance to each person, so that they can take that understanding into their own medium.” In addition, Madden notes that this is the first time that Locus is being taught with the intention and purpose of inspiring original responses. Which provokes some penetrating artistic questions. What does it mean to respond to a dance? How does one approach such a challenge? How is the important line between Brown’s creative property and each artists’ own work maintained? Both Mohr and Madden are keen for everyone involved to investigate and consider these complex ideas during this Bridge Project residency and beyond.

Over the next few weeks, this ambitious, grand experiment will unfold. And experimentation is inherently risky; no one can predict what the outcome will be. But taking a bold chance also brings the possibility for transformation — innovative discoveries, unexpected revelations, new connections. Mohr is eager to see what arises, “for artists, I hope that the Bridge Project enriches their practice; for audiences, that it gives them a unique chance to encounter dance history and see how it still resonates today; and for the arts community, that it keeps impactful, iconic works relevant and on people’s radar.”

Heather Desaulniers is a freelance dance writer based in Oakland. She is the Editorial Associate and SF/Bay Area columnist for CriticalDance, the dance curator for SF Arts Monthly, and contributes to several other dance-focused publications, including formerly to DanceTabs.