On View from the High Line: Rooftop Dance Performances

Trisha Brown Dance Company performs Roof Piece for the High Line Trisha Brown Dance Company recreates Roof Piece, originally performed in SoHo in 1971. Photo by Friends of the High Line

Despite heavy winds and ominous clouds on the horizon, nine dancers from the Trisha Brown Dance Company stepped into place on rooftops along the southern terminus of the High Line on Thursday evening. The dancers were preparing for their 7:00 PM performance — the debut of Roof Piece — a dance originally performed by the company in SoHo in 1971, and recreated on its 40th anniversary for the High Line. As the dancers prepared to begin, park visitors gathered along the High Line between Gansevoort and West 14th Streets. Some had come to see the performance, and others had stumbled upon it.

The rain arrived around 6:45 PM. Park visitors scrambled for cover under The Standard, New York, and the dancers raced to nearby rooftop awnings, stairwells, and utility rooms. It was the typical kind of storm that blows into New York City at this time every year: whipping winds serve as a late warning, and all of a sudden, the torrential rain begins.

EnlargeTrisha Brown Dance Company on the High Line

As the drops came pouring down, a hazy sun on the horizon promised a reprieve soon enough. Tense with worry, High Line staff notified the audience to wait out the storm; the performance would begin as soon as the rain shower passed. As if planned, the rain broke at 6:58 PM, allowing just enough time for the performance to take place as scheduled. The audience ventured from the protective covering of The Standard, New York, and spread out along the High Line, waiting for the performance to begin.

The dancers emerged from their hiding places, and returned to their positions. A silence fell over the crowd of nearly 300 people on the High Line. One by one, the dancers began a series of loose, fluid movements. A few were located near the High Line, while others were positioned far away on buildings of different heights. Unable to see all of the dancers at once, visitors strolled along the High Line to take in the different vantage points. As park visitors looked from dancer to dancer, the connection between the performers became apparent: they were mimicking each other's movements, passing the improvised dance from one to another over the water towers, exhaust pipes, HVAC units, and other rooftop structures of the Meatpacking District.

EnlargeTrisha Brown Dance Company on the High Line

Dressed in loose-fitting red clothing, the dancers moved with a rhythm that contrasted the frenetic pace on the streets, where taxi cabs and revelers at The Standard Biergarten were oblivious to the performance taking place above them. Each of the dancers moved with certainty; their eyes affixed on their closest neighbor, whose movements they followed with determination and care. Meanwhile, office workers at adjacent buildings, patrons at the rooftop bar at the Hotel Gansevoort, and High Line visitors watched and took photographs as the dance unfolded around them.

EnlargeTrisha Brown Dance Company, Roof Piece (1971).

In the audience on the High Line was Trisha Brown herself. Trisha Brown first came to public notice when she began showing her work with the Judson Dance Theater in the 1960s. Along with like-minded artists, including Yvonne Rainer, Steve Paxton, and Simone Forte, she pushed the limits of what could be considered appropriate movement for choreography, transforming conceptions of modern dance. Brown founded her namesake company in 1970. About a year later, her company performed the original Roof Piece on rooftops in and around Wooster and Lafayette Streets in SoHo.

About a year ago, the Trisha Brown Dance Company approached Friends of the High Line with the idea of re-creating Roof Piece in partnership with High Line Art, a program that commissions temporary public art for the High Line. High Line Art introduces a rotating schedule of temporary artworks that respond to the distinct character of the High Line itself. With its unique views of the cityscape on Manhattan's West Side, the High Line seemed like a natural setting to re-create Roof Piece, and soon the planning began.

One year later, the company made its debut at the High Line, despite the torrential rains. If you missed last night's debut, there are three more opportunities for you to see the performance for yourself. The company will perform tonight at 7:00 PM, and again tomorrow at 5:00 and 7:00 PM. All performances are free and open to visitors of all ages. No reservations are required. Please arrive early to secure a spot. Due to anticipated crowding on the High Line between Gansevoort and West 14th Street, access to the park may be limited between 7:00 and 8:00 PM.

EnlargeKids on the High Line

Tomorrow morning on the High Line, the Trisha Brown Dance Company will lead free, family-friendly workshops drawing inspiration from Roof Piece. Families are invited to experiment with sending and receiving movements to one another, exploring Trisha Brown's particular style with three of Trisha Brown Dance Company's own dancers. Visit our Event Calendar for details.

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