Roof Piece, May 11, 1971, rooftops between 53 Wooster Street and 381 Lafayette Street*

This site is included in LMCC’s Creative Insider’s Guide to Lower Manhattan, sponsored by Launch LM.

Throughout the early 1970s, Trisha Brown choreographed landmark works of modern dance involving body-based interventions across buildings, museum walls, parks, and city streets. Created one year after Brown founded the Trisha Brown Dance Company in 1970, Roof Piece (1971) consisted of twelve performers situated atop roofs within a 10-block area spanning from Brown’s residence at 53 Wooster Street to Robert Rauschenberg’s studio at 381 Lafayette Street. Brown’s improvised, semaphoric gestures were relayed down the line from one dancer to the next, as if the Trisha Brown Dance Company were playing a game of choreographic “telephone.” Halfway through the 30-minute performance, the movements were stopped and reversed in the opposite direction. Describing the innovation of Roof Piece, Susan Rosenberg writes, “Inverting her discipline’s principles, in which the body traverses space by performing remembered, fixed movements, Brown has her dancers remain still and choreography travel in Roof Piece.”** Choreographic transmission from one body to another across unparalleled expanses of space became the subject of Brown’s Roof Piece investigation.

The urban tableau of SoHo rooftops and windowpanes provided a stunning perspective for the far-ranging Roof Piece. In the 1970s, SoHo was a rather sparse and destitute area, in which large-scale spaces previously occupied by manufacturing and other industry, were being repurposed by artists such as Georges Maciunas and Gordon Matta-Clark as studios, lofts, and alternative exhibition spaces. The year prior to Roof Piece, Brown’s gravity defying Man Walking Down the Side of a Building (1970) involved performer Joseph Schlichter walking down the face of their seven-story 80 Wooster Street building in SoHo, rigged to mountaineering equipment at a 90-degree angle. The Trisha Brown Dance Company also re-performed Roof Piece in 1973, as Roof and Fire Piece (1973) from 420 West Broadway to 35 White Street. With these works, Brown responded to the built environment of her artistic community directly, making site-specificity across non-traditional spaces a central exploration of her seminal choreography during this time.

Brown fully immersed herself in New York City’s burgeoning avant-garde art scene upon moving to New York from California in 1961. Her first piece the year of her arrival, Structured Improvisations with Simone Forti and Dick Levine (1961), was performed in Yoko Ono’s loft at 112 Chambers Street, marking the beginning of Brown’s unique dances in Lower Manhattan locations and beyond. As a central creator in Judson Dance Theater’s influential modern dance throughout the 1960s, Brown developed choreography that heightened attention to everyday movements and actions. A sense of cross-pollination and interdisciplinary collaboration characterized broader artistic movements in New York City at the time as well as Brown’s developing artistic community, which included Simone Forti, Nancy Graves, Donald Judd, and Robert Rauschenberg among many others. A generation of artists creating work today across mediums such as dance, performance, sculpture, and drawing reflect the expansive possibilities in creative practice opened up by this pioneering cohort of multi-disciplinary creators from the 1960s and 70s in which Brown was a central figure.

– Alex Fialho

 

*no longer viewable
**Susan Rosenberg, “Trisha Brown: Choreography as Visual Art,” October, Spring 2012, Issue 140, p. 37

 

Photo Credit:

Trisha Brown
Roof Piece, 1973
© Babette Mangolte 1973