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Flying in a new galaxy: Trisha Brown at the Paris Opera ballet.

With her arms spread wide, Aurelie Dupont is held aloft, parallel to the ground, against a backdrop of night stars. Manuel Legris and Nicolas Le Riche turn her around her axis like a slow-moving rotisserie. With Laurie Anderson's score and its whispered Polish poem about a bird, this enigmatic lift is the first and last image in O Zlozony/O Composite, Trisha Brown's first new work for the Paris Opera Ballet.

Like other Brown works, O Composite plays with illusions of flight. The three dancers' actions--limbs shifting to move through off-kilter shapes and classical poses--connect together to read as complex clockworks. As Anderson's score swings from woozy waltz to thrumming percussion, their dancing takes on a relaxed athleticism, switching from languid turns to superfast, gone-before-you-know-it etchings in space. Wearing Elizabeth Cannon's fashion-forward white costumes with bodices inspired by fencing gear, they keep returning to a stripped-down simplicity in the hushed star-filled cosmos of Vija Celmins' set.

In one pas de trois Dupont soars airborne in arabesque, her back leg high like an elegant bird tail. She zig zags downward, then lands on a pink-slippered toe, later spiraling down as if evaporating altogether. Strong emotional resonances and a sense of mystery arise from the dancers' delicate actions, and the premiere performance last December provokes thunderous, ecstatic applause.

World-class stars Dupont, Legris, and Le Riche each trained in the school of the Paris Opera Ballet from childhood and have performed countless leading roles. Legris says, "The release of Trisha's movement is completely different from what we learn in classical training. It's bizarre to be 40, with the career I've had, and say suddenly, 'I'm really inexperienced here.' But right away I liked and trusted Trisha."

Dupont says, "Normally in a classical ballet I have only one partner and hold myself very straight and upright. Trisha wants to do the reverse, to be always on the edge of danger."

For Brown, long admired and supported in France (last December she was named Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters), the collaboration is the second part of a three-year project with the POB. The first was the staging of Brown's Glacial Decoy, and the third will be the presentation of the Trisha Brown Dance Company as an invited company--a rare distinction.

Together in the circular studio under the famed dome of the Paris Opera building, Brown and her cast explored new potentials for pointe shoes and lifts. In rehearsals, Dupont slid on the tips of her shoes as if they were ice skates, and was partnered to create the illusion of a timeless free float. "They were my teachers," says Brown after the rehearsal. "They are incredibly investigative of all possibilities."

The three etoiles threw themselves into the challenging choreography. In one lift Dupont's legs fold under her, insect-like; later she "walks" an imaginary stairway from sky to earth maneuvered by her partners' hands. Legris draws rubbery calligraphies of one limb around another, and Le Riche's segmented solo boasts a bravura not unlike that of a break dancer.

When asked why she commissioned Brown, a staunch postmodernist, POB director Brigitte Lefevre replies, "She is a pioneer, not only physically but conceptually, too. When we see Trisha's work, we can no longer see dance in the same way we did before." Lefevre describes POB as being like a tree: "The roots are baroque dance; the trunk is academic dance; and the branches are flowering with influences coming from outside."

Last year, during the first stage of the POB/Brown collaboration, the POB cast of Glacial Decoy worked on keeping the head mobile, learning to fall, and allowing one movement to begin before the preceding one has finished. Caroline Bance, one of the dancers, says: "It's taught me about softness, I've learned a kind of continuity, a connection where one movement motivates another." In order to stay in unison without music they worked with peripheral vision and deep muscle memory. "The way of 'listening' to the other dancers also serves me in Sleeping Beauty!" says Bance.--L.K.
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Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Apr 1, 2005
Words:673
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