Dance Review: Trisha Brown’s ‘Set and Reset,’ at BAM’s Gilman Opera House

February 3rd, 2013

Trisha Brown’s “Set and Reset” — surely the most beloved and irresistible work of postmodern dance — will be 30 years old this year. On Thursday evening it returned to the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Howard Gilman Opera House for a single performance during the Trisha Brown Dance Company’s current season there.

Andrea Mohin/The New York Times

Trisha Brown Dance Company Stuart Shugg and Tara Lorenzen in “Set and Reset,” in its only performance of the season at Howard Gilman Opera House on Thursday.

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The designs — the projected installation that eventually hangs above the stage, with its black-and-white newsreel collages of oddly arresting visual information; and the loose, translucent two-piece trouser costumes, decorated with black-and-white patterns like print — are by Robert Rauschenberg; few stage works of his career are more marvelous. Laurie Anderson’s music connects separate layers of rhythm and sounds in an array both minimalist and melodic: you remember the rapid-clanging gong and the soft voice chanting the words “Long Time, No See” on four different notes, like an automaton.

The first dance image is a superlative real-life trompe l’oeil, a dancer walking along a wall (with support from others beneath her). To us, she looks just like a pedestrian on a sidewalk, as seen from a high window directly above. (This image recalls Ms. Brown’s 1971 “Walking on the Wall.”)

But that’s mere prelude. The dancing that follows is a rippling, cascading, happy torrent. Among the marvels of “Set and Reset” is its enchanting use of peripheral space, with dancers bounding out of the wings, hovering halfway out of them, even walking (being walked horizontally, at top speed) along the side scenery, staying close to it. At first, all the dancers stay on the edges of the space; next, like a slowly advancing tide, they make progress.

Yet more engaging is the body language here: democratic dance in excelsis, pedestrianism raised into utopian poetry. The performers swing arms, dip knees, hitch thighs, tip torsos, raise shoulders, dip heads, bounce and pounce, all in sequences that look like currents passing through their bodies and that you feel within your own.

The dancers look like children playing, often in close-knit groups, with innocent movement ideas rapidly passed in chain reactions along lines or across the space. They also look — without a single sexual moment in the choreography — wonderfully sexy: both alert and relaxed, gorgeously liberated and full of vivid, shimmying impulses, playful and responsive. In a solo, Nicholas Strafaccia (also marvelous in “Newark”) is superlative: the freest of the free.

Before the performance, members of the original 1983 cast, invited to stand along with other former members of the Brown company, were warmly applauded. Pride and joy filled the theater.

The Trisha Brown Dance Company performs through Saturday at the Howard Gilman Opera House, Brooklyn Academy of Music, 30 Lafayette Avenue, at Ashland Place, Fort Greene; (718) 636-4100, bam.org.

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