On the occasion of the exhibition Robert Rauschenberg: Erasing the Rules, and the performance program Limited Edition, Projects + Perspectives and Open Space invited artists Alex Escalante, Keith Hennessy, and Leyya Tawil to offer their thoughts on three iconic dance works included in the Rauschenberg show — and to link these works to three contemporary pieces. On P+P you’ll find Merce Cunningham’s Antic Meet, Trisha Brown’s Glacial Decoy, and Robert Rauschenberg’s Pelican, and on Open Space you’ll find robbinschilds’ Sonya and Layla Go Camping, Skywatchers’ I Got a Truth to Tell, and a collaboration between Mohamad Bayoumi, Michael Ibrahim, and Mohannad Ghawanmeh.
by Leyya Mona Tawil
The switch: artist Robert Rauschenberg’s set becomes choreographic, and choreographer Trisha Brown’s dance becomes music. Together they vibrate, and the visual is absorbed through the body, not the eye.
From the beginning, Rauschenberg’s images command the stage, offering depth and spatial design. Traveling across four frames left-to-right, they appear and disappear; they have movement. The impact of each image, and the image in relation to the stage, depends on this movement. The frames are porous. Here lies the dance.
Two actual dancers appear suddenly, performing quickly timed flashes of action. They also move on the periphery; seen and unseen. In the silence, their choreographic flow becomes music. The percussive sound code of their limbs; hands and feet that syncopate; the rhythmic consistency of their physical language — all of these small gestures and adjustments accumulate into a sound score, perceived through body knowledge.
This fluidity of artistic roleplay is in unison with itself. Beauty reigns in the dissolution of borders between the forms, the functions. Brown’s movement invention is built on the principles of skeletal organization and it suggests a spatial architecture that keeps the human form knocking against the frame – of the body and the kinesthetic sphere. We can hear that knocking, we can hear the melodic sweep of the weighted limb and its percussive retraction. Glacial Decoy is loud through the dancers’ rhythmic delivery.
In coordination, taking up the entire back wall (perhaps a riff off of Brown’s Walking on the Wall), we have action. Rauschenberg’s images, skirting the confines of their frame, offer kinesthetic information. The flip is complete — and though the frames fall out, the collaborative weave will not be undone.