Last year’s obituary in The New York Times for the modern dancer and choreographer Trisha Brown only casually mentioned her debt to the landscapes of the Pacific Northwest. It was a unusual characterization for an artist who once told her fellow Washingtonian, the choreographer Merce Cunningham, that “The rain forest was my first art class.”
Indeed the Pacific Northwest’s instruction is found in many of Brown’s works. Her 1970 piece “Floor of the Forest” employs a steel scaffolding to hold a cloth canopy of ropes threaded with colorful used clothing to create a synthetic forest where dancers writhe and wiggle.
Her 1979 piece “Glacial Decoy” is similarly derived from these experiences. In this work Brown and Robert Rauschenberg created fleeting images via gossamer-clad dancers and an ongoing found image slide projection. The mechanical and physical movements become an elegant analog to the glaciers. The images and dancers move and shift forward and back, side or other side, or anywhere in between, like a lateral melt. The fleeting projections become a visual metaphor melting and congealing anew.
I have never been to Olympic National Park, so I followed Brown’s example and combined my own experiences with what I learned from an artist who followed the Hoh River Trail, studied the Hoh Rainforest, and revered the Blue Glacier. We should follow her lead and do the same. We must “give [ourselves] a moment to feel this very mobile sense of how the balance is.”
The Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble will be going on tour with this piece. Here’s their press release describing their Music Inspired by our National Parks tour. Check out the tour schedule here. Watch their preview video below.