Trisha Brown Dance Company Interview: 'Art is an emotional thing, and I think it moves you in a different way when you see works unfolding outside of formal settings'

Trisha Brown’s trailblazing choreography is a perfect fit for Jupiter Artland, writes Kelly Apter
"There's no setting more exciting than the world around us". Picture: EIF"There's no setting more exciting than the world around us". Picture: EIF
"There's no setting more exciting than the world around us". Picture: EIF

"Wow!” Like many people, Carolyn Lucas’s response to seeing Jupiter Artland for the first time was visceral. Unlike the rest of us, however, the associate artistic director of Trisha Brown Dance Company was about to use the West Lothian art park as her playground.

On a reconnaissance trip to see where Trisha Brown: In Plain Site could be staged, Lucas had much to contemplate. Featuring short works and excerpts drawn from the late choreographer’s extensive repertoire, the show is regularly staged in non-theatrical spaces. Rarely, however, is the setting a work of art itself.

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“We wanted to find places where the work would have the most resonance – the sweet spots that illuminate the dancers, the work, the sculptures, the surrounding area and the audience. There were lots of things to consider to get the balance right.”

Due to be performed at the Edinburgh International Festival, the show sold out quickly, with just 120 people allowed at each performance. Audience members will start at Charles Jencks’ iconic grass mounds and pools Cells of Life, where the dancers will perform Raft Piece floating on water; move on to Phyllida Barlow’s sculpture Quarry to watch Floor of the Forest; and then on to Andy Goldsworthy’s forest-set Stone Coppice to see Locus – originally a solo for Brown herself, but now danced by four people.

So for those lucky enough to have a ticket, the journey around Jupiter Artland will be as special as the dance itself. And for Lucas, taking care of you is crucial.

“The audience is really important to us,” she says. “We want people to be comfortable, so we’ve made sure that everyone is in close proximity to the work and to each other. During our initial walk around the park, we’d find somewhere really beautiful, but then realise if we staged it there, only three people could see it. We also had to think about how people would get to each location and how much they would want to walk during the performance.”

Lucas joined the Trisha Brown Dance Company as a dancer in 1984, becoming Brown’s choreographic assistant in 1993, then taking on her current role in 2013 when Brown retired. So not only is she a gentle and astute guardian of the work created by this pivotal figure in American post-modern dance, but Lucas can also see locations through Brown’s eyes. Jupiter Artland, she feels, will be a good fit.

Claire Feeley is also hopeful that Brown would have given her seal of approval for the show. As Head of Exhibitions at Jupiter Artland, she’s the reason the work is coming here at all.

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“When I first saw Trisha Brown’s work, it was a piece of archival video footage and I’ve never been so transfixed,” says Feeley. “I was so moved, and what any curator wants to do is share that feeling.

“So that’s when I got in touch with Trisha’s company, originally to propose the exhibition of moving image – which we’ll be hosting at Jupiter until the end of September – but also tentatively to explore if it might be possible to invite the company over to perform. And it felt like the stars aligned, because they was looking at how Trisha engaged with landscape and investing in their programme In Plain Sight.”

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Feeley took the idea to Edinburgh International Festival director, Fergus Linehan, who described the partnership as “perfect”, and the wheels were set in motion.

Based in New York until her death in 2017, Brown was known for her trailblazing choreography, redefining dance and movement from the 1960s onwards. The whole world was her stage (Raft Piece was once performed on the Hudson River), so placing her work in a setting as beautiful, creative and forward-thinking as Jupiter Artland is, as Linehan said, perfect.

“There’s no setting more exciting than the world around us – it brings so much richness to artistic work,” says Feeley. “And Trisha Brown was so fearless from so early on in her career, making the city streets of New York her dance theatre."

“Jupiter Artland absolutely runs on that same energy, it wants to bring these experiences out. Art is an emotional thing, and I think it moves you in a different way when you see works unfolding outside of formal settings, it’s much more personal.”

Trisha Brown: In Plain Site, Jupiter Artland, 9–11 August

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