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Killacky: A Moment in Time

01/29/13 7:55AM By John Killacky
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Photo: Jonathan Butler
(Host) This week the Brooklyn Academy of Music is presenting the Trisha Brown Dance Company, featuring one of her most acclaimed works, "Set and Reset" that premiered there thirty years ago. The performance has particular significance for arts presenter and commentator John Killacky.

(Killacky) Three decades ago I was Trisha Brown's Managing Director. In fact I was the only administrative staff, working at a desk with a rotary phone in the airshaft between her living and rehearsal spaces.

Arts administration was a nascent field. My most relevant experience was that I had performed and toured as a dancer. I approached each day like rehearsal, building on what I knew and learning what I didn't know - when writing grant proposals, putting together tours, and working with the board to raise money.

Brown's loft building was Valhalla for New York's downtown dance world with illustrious tenants Lucinda Childs and Douglas Dunn, as well as David Gordon and Valda Setterfield. When I had questions, I could simply ride the elevator to get answers. Otherwise, I could go across the street to Paul Taylor's office, or uptown for advice and counsel from Merce Cunningham's staff. There was great generosity in those days; young managers coached each other to success.

When I joined the company, Trisha was developing a new interdisciplinary collaboration with sets and costumes by Robert Rauschenberg and music by Laurie Anderson. The choreography was developed with gleeful abandon. Dancers learned a movement phrase from Trisha and then skittered off to the corners to improvise on it. All encouraged each other to disrupt the proceedings with playful high jinks. Laughter fueled rehearsals.

Rauschenberg created multiple focus points with a flying translucent set projecting black and white stock footage, see-through wings opening up the proscenium, and transparent silk-screened costumes. Anderson built a cacophony of sound by repeating and looping the phrase, "Long Time No See" amidst clanging bells.

During the final weeks of rehearsals, many of Trisha's collaborators, friends, and art world colleagues came by
Trisha Brown Dance Company
Photo courtesy of Trisha Brown Dance Company
to visit. Most were enthralled by the sumptuous and lyrically cascading choreography. However, one downtown doyenne dismissed it by telling Trisha she was sure "it would be very successful." Success was considered suspect in the avant-garde. Severe intentionality was highly praised, while critical and popular acclaim was disdained.

Well, "Set and Reset" was rapturously received at its premiere, and the success of this resplendent work was game changing for all of postmodern dance, with its investigative rigor, technical virtuosity, and luxurious production values.

Right after the opening, I flew to London with press kits in my backpack, got a Eurorail pass and literally knocked on doors of theaters and opera houses across Europe, to introduce the company's work - communication being a bit different back then.

How wonderful that the Brooklyn Academy of Music is bringing back "Set and Reset," allowing audiences to once again experience this seminal 20th century masterwork that it commissioned thirty years ago. And affording me, a glorious moment in which to revisit and celebrate.

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