Trisha Brown, the legendary choreographer, dancer and artist who died Saturday at 80 in a care facility in San Antonio, Tex., performed regularly under the aegis of Walker Art Center over the past few decades. Her company was booked by such curators as Nigel Redden, John Killacky and Philip Bither.
Killacky, who served as the Walker's performing arts curator at from 1988-'96, worked for three seasons as managing director at Brown's then-barebones company.
“She was known in some circles but not terribly well-known, so she had only one employee who ran the company, administratively — me,” Killacky said of his 1983-’85 tenure with Brown. “It was just the two of us on her kitchen table in her loft.”
This was the period in which Brown was making “Set And Reset,” her breakout work that has music by Laurie Anderson and a set designed by artist Robert Rauschenberg.
“Before that, she’d been performing in alternative galleries and small spaces,” said Killacky. “After it premiered at [the Brooklyn Academy of Music], she started performing in opera houses,” especially in Europe.
Killacky recalled that he had a little something to do with that. As part of his job, he flew to Europe, bought a train pass and went to venues with press kits in a backpack, seeking bookings.
“It was wild in those days, and so much fun,” he said.
As an artist, Brown grew up with the Judson School, which made high art of pedestrian movements. Brown’s advance was to add flair and lyricism to ordinary dance, Killacky said.
“She gave pedestrian movements a new grace and lushness, this silky release and pullback,” he said. “Her choreography was all about bodies recoiling and rebounding. She gave us the resilient human body.”
Brown had a profound impact on the field of dance, he continued, with a legacy that included the incorporation of film and talking in her work as well as early site-specific pieces.
“The Martha Grahams, Paul Taylors and Merce Cunninghams of the world rewrote modernism,” said Killacky. “Trisha Brown was one of the key people in rewriting post-modernism.”
Killacky last shared a stage with Brown in 2010 at Mills College, her alma mater. It was in conjunction with an exhibit celebrating her works.
“As we were talking in this Q & A, Trisha started struggling with a memory about something or another,” he said. “But then she jumped up from her seat and started dancing. Her muscle memory remembered the story and she told it to us while dancing. She was dexterous as she improvised and carried on a linear conversation.”