Early life and education
Brown was born in Aberdeen, Washington, and received a B.A. degree in dance from Mills College in 1958. Brown later received a D.F.A. from Bates College in 2000. For several summers she studied with Louis Horst at the American Dance Festival, then held at Connecticut College.
After moving to New York in 1961, Brown trained with dancer Anna Halprin and became a founding member of the avant-garde Judson Dance Theater in 1962. There she worked with experimental dancers Yvonne Rainer, Steve Paxton, Twyla Tharp, Lucinda Childs, and David Gordon. She also joined a composition class led by Robert Dunn, a musician from the Merce Cunningham dance studio who was interested in applying the musical ideas of John Cage (Cunningham's partner and regular collaborator) to dance. In 1970 she cofounded the Grand Union, an experimental dance collective, and formed the Trisha Brown Dance Company. Her company soon became one of the leading contemporary dance ensembles. Brown received a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant in 1991.
In the late 1960s Brown created her own works which attempted to defy gravity, using equipment such as ropes and harnesses, to allow dancers to walk on or down walls or to experiment with the dynamics of stability. These “equipment pieces” were the first dances to comprise a distinct series in what would become a working method for Brown as she went on to create various “cycles” of dances throughout her career. Brown’s early works Walking on the Wall (1971) and Roof Piece (1971) were designed to be performed at specific sites. Accumulation (1971), which is executed with the dancers on their backs, has been performed in public spaces of all kinds, including on water, with the dancers floating on rafts as they methodically work through the piece's graduated gestures. Walking on the Wall involved dancers in harnesses moving along a wall, while Roof Piece took place on 12 different rooftops over a ten-block area in New York City's SoHo, with each dancer transmitting the movements to a dancer on the nearest roof. In 1974, Brown began a residential relationship with the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, MN, that has continued to this day. With 1978's Accumulation with Talking plus Watermotor, a complex solo combining elements of three other pieces, she demonstrated a mental and physical virtuosity seldom seen in the dance world, then or now. Brown's rigorous structures, combined with pedestrian or simple movement styles and tongue-in-cheek humor brought an intellectual sensibility that challenged the mainstream "modern dance" mindset of this period.
During the 1980s Brown produced large-scale works intended for the stage and began her artistic collaborations, beginning with Glacial Decoy (1979) which had sets and costumes by artist Robert Rauschenberg. This period was most notable for the slithery and highly articulated movement style which characterized much of her work during this time. The Molecular Structure cycle, which included Opal Loop (1980), Son of Gone Fishin' (1981) and another collaboration with Rauschenberg, Set and Reset (1983), featuring a score by performance artist Laurie Anderson and a set design by Rauschenberg, solidified Brown's stature as an innovator within the dance world and as an artist of global significance. Three screens simultaneously broadcast separate video collages in black and white (more than 20 years before a video component became the norm in new choreography), while the dancers rippled around the stage in part-translucent costumes marked with gray and black figures that resembled newsprint. Unlike Merce Cunningham and John Cage, who worked separately on projects and left it to the viewer to put the elements together, Brown and her collaborators worked toward a shared vision.
Sculptor Nancy Graves designed the set for Lateral Pass, (1985), which began began Brown's Valiant cycle. It used a larger pad, bolder movement phrases to articulate Brown's evolving spacial aesthetics. This led to Newark (1987), with decor and a sound concept by Donald Judd. For Astral Convertible (1989) and Foray Forêt (1990), costumes and sets were once again made by Rauschenberg. Astral Convertible, in particular, originally was commissioned by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., as part of a major Robert Rauschenberg exhibition in 1991 and presented on the museum's steps, overlooking the National Mall. Performances of Foray Forêt include local marching bands from the presenting city. For M. G. (1991; a reference to Michel Guy, a former French minister of culture who died in 1990) is sculptural and kinetic, opening with a dancer running in figure-eight circles around the stage, slowing into loping motion down the center.
Brown has continued to explore the nature of motion and to choreograph dances based on everyday movements. Her style has developed from carefully built-up, repetitive gestures to its current fluid virtuosity. In You Can See Us (1996), she performed together with Mikhail Baryshnikov. A mirror duet drawn from a solo, If You Couldn’t See Me (1994), in which Brown performed entirely with her back to the audience, it is performed to ten minutes of an electronic “sound score” on a bare stage.
In the 1990s she turned to choreographing classical music, creating M.O. (1995) based on the Musical Offering by German composer Johann Sebastian Bach, and her first opera production, L'Orfeo (1998) by Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi. Brown found inspiration in jazz for El Trilogy (1998–2000), completed her second opera, Luci mie traditrici (composed by Salvatore Sciarrino) in 2001, and in 2002 choreographed the song cycle Die Winterreise (Winter’s Journey) by Austrian composer Franz Schubert for English baritone Simon Keenlyside. Brown worked again with Laurie Anderson in 2004 on O Zlozony/O Composite for the Paris Opera Ballet. Among her well-known disciples are Diane Madden and Stephen Petronio, Brown's first male dancer in 1979.
Though Brown has long been known for her collaborations with artists, it is less known that she has also produced a substantial body of drawings. In recent years she has shown these drawings, including during a major multidisciplinary 2008 celebration of her work at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. In 2009, the Chelsea gallery Sikkema Jenkins & Company, which represents her husband Burt Barr, presented her first solo exhibition in New York, featuring work dating to the 1970s.
In 2003, "Trisha Brown: Dance and Art in Dialogue 1961-2001", was organized by the Addison Gallery of American Art at Phillips Academy and the Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College; the exhibition later travelled to the Henry Art Gallery in 2004. In 2007, works of Brown's choreography and drawings were included in documenta 12. In honor of her company’s 40th anniversary season in 2010, the Whitney Museum of American Art hosted several performances as part of "Off the Wall: Part 2 — Seven Works by Trisha Brown". In 2011, the Trisha Brown Dance Company took over the atrium of the Museum of Modern Art as part of a Performance Exhibition Series in conjunction with the survey “On Line: Drawing Through the Twentieth Century”. That same year, "Trisha Brown" was mounted at the Serralves Foundation, Porto.
Brown served on the National Council on the Arts from 1994 to 1997. She has received numerous honorary doctorates and is an Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1988 she was named Chevalier dans L’Ordre des Arts et Lettres by the government of France. In January 2000 she was promoted to officier and in 2004, was again elevated; this time to the level of commandeur. Brown’s Set and Reset is included in the baccalaureate curriculum for French students pursuing dance studies. She was a 1994 recipient of the Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award. In 2000, she was inducted into the National Museum of Dance's Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame in 2000. In 2002, she was awarded the National Medal of Arts, and in 2005 she won the Prix Benois de la Danse for lifetime achievement. In 2011, Brown won the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize, an award worth about $300,000 that was named after the silent film actresses, and the Bessie Award for lifetime achievement.
Her works include:
- Homemade (1966)
- Man Walking Down the Side of a Building (1970)
- Floor of the Forest (1970)
- Leaning Duets (1970)
- Accumulation (1971)
- Walking on the Wall (1971)
- Roof Piece (1971)
- Primary Accumulation (1972)
- Group Primary Accumulation (1973)
- Structured Pieces II (1974)
- Spiral (1974)
- Locus (1975)
- Structured Pieces III (1975)
- Solo Olos (1976)
- Line Up (1976)
- Spanish Dance' (1976)
- Watermotor (1978)
- Accumulation with Talking plus Watermotor (1978)
- Glacial Decoy (1979)
- Opal Loop (1980)
- Son of Gone Fishin' (1981)
- Set and Reset (1983)
- Lateral Pass (1985)
- Newark (1987)
- Astral Convertible (1989)
- Foray Forêt (1990)
- For M.G.: The Movie (1991)
- One Story as in falling (1992)
- Another Story as in falling (1993)
- If you couldn't see me (1994)
- M.O. (1995)
- Twelve Ton Rose (1996)
- L'Orfeo (1998)
- Winterreise (2002)
- PRESENT TENSE (2003)
- O Zlozony/O Composite (2004)
- How long does the subject linger on the edge of the volume... (2005)
- I love my robots (2007)
- L'Amour au Theatre (2009)
- Pygmalion (2010)
- Rossella Mazzaglia, Trisha Brown. Palermo, L'Epos, 2007. ISBN 978-88-8302-329-3
- Sanjoy Roy (October 13, 2010), Step-by-step guide to dance: Trisha Brown The Guardian.
- TRISHA BROWN DANCE COMPANY IN RESIDENCE AT DIA:BEACON, RIGGIO GALLERIES, Press Release of October 30, 2009 Dia Art Foundation.
- Alastair Macaulay (May 14, 2008), Rauschenberg and Dance, Partners for Life New York Times.
- Wendy Perron (January 11, 2004), Trisha Brown, the Artist's Dance Partner New York Times.
- Anna Kisselgoff (September 16, 1987), Dance: The Trisha Brown Company in 'Newark' New York Times.
- Mark Swed (April 5, 2013), Review: Flashes of lightning in Trisha Brown's 'Astral Converted' Los Angeles Times.
- Roslyn Sulcas (March 17, 2011), Private Gestural Language, Unfolding Poetically New York Times.
- Annette Grant (August 8, 1999), Misha and Trisha, Talking Dance New York Times.
- Gerald Dowler (October 18, 2010), Trisha Brown, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London Financial Times.
- Sanjoy Roy (October 13, 2010), Step-by-step guide to dance: Trisha Brown The Guardian.
- Claudia La Rocco (April 24, 2009), 40 Years of Creations, Onstage and on Paper New York Times.
- Trisha Brown, in Stereo Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington.
- Gia Kourlas (September 10, 2010), On Roofs and Walls, They’re Honoring Trisha Brown’s Work New York Times.
- Claudia La Rocco (January 13, 2011), Drawings in a Museum, Using Bodies New York Times.
- TRISHA BROWN, March 26 - May 1, 2011 Serralves Foundation, Porto.
- Trisha Brown: So That the Audience Does Not Know Whether I Have Stopped Dancing, April 18 – July 20, 2008 Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.
- Lifetime Honors - National Medal of Arts
- Felicia R. Lee (October 4, 2011), Trisha Brown to Receive ‘Bessie’ Lifetime Achievement Award New York Times.
- Lili Rosboch (June 28, 2010), Rolex Names Artists to Work With Kapoor, Eno in Mentor Program Bloomberg.
- Judith Mackrell (November 16, 2011), Lee Serle: following in the footsteps of Trisha Brown The Guardian.
- United States Artists Official Website
- Archival footage of Trisha Brown Dance Company performing Set and Reset in 1986 at Jacob's Pillow
- Archival footage of Trisha Brown Dance Company performing Les Yeux et L'Ame in 2011 at Jacob's Pillow