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Watching a Choreographer Build: Trisha Brown’s Unusual Archive


Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the final stages of the acquisition process have taken longer than planned. Ms. Dufty said that about half of the archive has been delivered to the library; she hopes the rest will arrive by the end of 2020. After that, by Ms. Murray’s estimate, it could take up to three years to process the collection for public access.

In the meantime, the archive remains essential to the company’s work, which hasn’t stopped in the wake of Brown’s death. Ms. Lucas described the excitement of unearthing, a few years ago, documentation of “Ballet,” a 1968 solo that Brown performed only once, in which she traversed a tightrope in a pink tutu. A reconstruction of the long-lost piece opened the company’s 2018 season at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, with Cecily Campbell in Brown’s adventurous role.

More recently, the company has been celebrating its 50th anniversary online, streaming past performances and rehearsals while devising new interactive digital projects. From Sept. 21 to 26, followers of @trishabrowncompany on Instagram will be invited to create and post their own sections of “Solo Olos,” a dance from 1976, based on a given set of instructions.

When the archive is, at last, publicly available, researchers may find themselves pleasantly inundated with new ways of understanding Brown’s work, even those already well acquainted with her choreography. Ms. Olinghouse, for example, was introduced through the archive to Brown’s writings. “I suddenly was learning about her writing style, her sense of poetics, her wit, her humor,” she said. “It gave me a very different window into her as a maker.”

In one notebook entry from the 1970s, Brown observes her own inclination to erase or erode what she has made. “When I first started choreographing in NYC,” she writes, “I had the habit of reducing what I was doing down to the bare bone. The trouble with this practice is that when I went into the studio to work, I came out with much less than what I started with.” She stopped working on one three-minute dance “just before it disappeared altogether.” Lucky for us, she kept on making, and she held on to a lot.





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