It took me a while to figure out what’s odd about Trisha Brown’s ensemble piece Rapture to Leon James, dedicated to a famous lindy hopper at the Savoy Ballroom in the late 30s. Set to a score by jazz trumpeter Dave Douglas, Brown’s choreography celebrates American popular dance–tap, jitterbug, even minstrelsy and square dance–without ever actually reproducing it. It’s as if aliens had come to earth, watched a performance of West Side Story, then made up their own version, complete with the symmetries and hierarchies of musical theater but entirely lacking in emotional and narrative content. Of course American social dancing is a departure for Brown, a member of the avant-garde postmodern Judson Church group in the 60s, and it’s no surprise she should set herself the task of deconstructing it. What is surprising is the level of feeling in her Twelve Ton Rose, set to various pieces by Anton Webern. The title (a pun on “12-tone rows,” Webern’s compositional method) at first suggests a freak-show fat lady, an image definitely at odds with Brown’s astringent choreography: her dancers are self-contained, their movements dry and illogical in mimetic terms, and the partnering looks almost accidental: how did that foot get in the small of someone’s back? But gradually you realize how filled with emotion Webern’s music is, and the dancers’ interactions begin to take on the quality of a story: Why is this particular dancer invested with the distress in the music? Where has this humorous interlude come from and where is it going? In addition to these two works, the Brown company’s first appearance here in ten years also includes the second U.S. performance of Geometry of Quiet, set to a flute solo by opera composer Salvatore Sciarrino. Dance Center of Columbia College, 1306 S. Michigan, 312-344-8300. Through October 6: Friday-Saturday, 8 PM; Sunday, 7 PM. $24. Note: An opening-night gala, which includes a buffet supper at 6:30 and a postperformance dessert reception, is $125, or $100 for Dance Center season subscribers. Also, Brown’s company offers a master class Saturday, October 5, at 10:30 AM; $15.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Chris Callis.