As the international dance world mourns the loss of Trisha Brown, one of the greatest modern choreographers, her Rolex protégé has joined leading newspapers and performers of dance in making a professional – and personal – tribute to her.
Trisha Brown died on 18 March 2017, aged 80. In the city where her dance company is based, The New York Times described her as “a titan of modern dance” and an “exemplar of the founding generation of American postmodern dance”. Dance magazine declared that “for many in the dance world, Brown has become a sacred figure. She made works that were beautiful in a whole new way, coaxing the dance world out of its theatrical narrative and into a beguiling state of what she called ‘pure movement’.” In Paris, Le Figaro described her work as among “the most poetic and innovative ever produced in dance”. In London, The Guardian proclaimed her “a pioneer of postmodern dance whose gravity-defying work shaped generations of creators”. Mikhail Baryshnikov said of Trisha Brown: “To dance with her was a very important and memorable experience for me.”
Lee Serle, a young dancer-choreographer from Melbourne, Australia, was protégé to Trisha Brown in the 2010–2011 Rolex Arts Initiative. For the mentoring year, he moved to New York to be part of her dance company. His life was transformed by his mentorship – he now shares his time between Melbourne and New York.
“Trisha really changed the course of my life and career,” Serle said from New York. “Not only a mentor to me, but to all of the dancers in her company for over 40 years, inspiring a whole generation of artists who worked and collaborated with her. The response in the [dance] community has been overwhelming, she touched many peoples’ lives personally and through her brilliant career as an artist.
“It was an incredible privilege to be mentored by Trisha and create some of her final dances during that time [the mentorship]. Trisha’s work resonated with me deeply, changing the way I view and think about dance. I am here living in New York and continue to perform with her company, and it is a great honour to carry her legacy forward.”
He summed up his mentor as “a beautiful, generous and playful spirit; Trisha will be sorely missed by many around the world, but particularly her family and loving community of friends and artists in New York.”
Brown’s works, including over 100 choreographies and dances for six operas, were performed and applauded not only in the US but also abroad, particularly in France, where in 2004 she was given one of the nation’s highest honours, the rank of Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters. She was a pioneer of site-specific dance and among her best-known works are the astonishing Man Walking Down the Side of a Building and the popular Set and Reset, featuring costumes and set design by Robert Rauschenberg. She died only a few months after her husband, video artist Burt Barr.
Rebecca Irvin, Head of Philanthropy at Rolex, said: “We at Rolex are very saddened by the passing of Trisha Brown and we send our condolences to her family and colleagues. We were grateful and honoured that Trisha was an active and enthusiastic participant in the Rolex Arts Initiative, both as an artistic advisor and later as a mentor. Her mentorship of Lee Serle was lovely and generous. In addition to being a wonderful human being, Trisha was a unique and important artist who has left a lasting mark on the world of dance.”