Babette Mangolte

Trisha Brown WATER MOTOR


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Babette Mangolte born 1941
Film, 35 mm, or video, projection, black and white
Duration: 7 min, 55 sec
Presented by the American Fund for the Tate Gallery 2015


Trisha Brown WATER MOTOR is a filmed record of a solo performance by the American postmodern dancer and choreographer Trisha Brown (born 1936). The film is black and white and silent, lasting seven minutes and fifty five seconds. It has been produced in an edition of five plus two artist’s proofs; Tate’s copy is number four in the edition. The artist’s preference is for the film to be shown as a projection, but it can also be displayed on a monitor. Brown’s Water Motor dance premiered at the Public Theatre, Newman Stage in New York on 22 May 1978; the dance has subsequently come to be recognised as a key piece in Brown’s early work. Lasting only two and a half minutes, it was a virtuoso display of energetic movement. Typical of Brown’s choreography, it features movements derived from everyday gestures, extended into a fluid sequence that, as the work’s title suggests, recalls both the flow of water and the intensity of a motorised engine.

Mangolte’s film of the dance is structured in two parts, both of which are shot in complete, unbroken takes. The first shows Brown performing in real time; in the second she performs the dance again, but this footage is shot in slow motion at forty eight frames per second, allowing the viewer to see the intricacy of the dancer’s movements in more detail. These two sections are punctuated by slow fades to black which the artist has compared to the opening and closing of a theatrical curtain.

At the time that she made the film, Mangolte had been photographing the Trisha Brown Dance Company for several years. Brown invited Mangolte to view her new solo piece in her New York loft apartment in the winter of 1978. Mangolte has described her first impressions of the work:

I was stunned when I saw it. Not only was it absolutely thrilling but I felt it was an enormous departure from the movement in [Brown’s] previous piece Locus … It is that strong first impression that the new solo was the beginning of a new phase in Trisha’s work that triggered in me the desire to record it on film. Because of the dance[’s] sheer bravado and speed I also felt that the physical abilities of the dancer had to be so fine-tuned that maybe Trisha would not be able to dance it for many years to come and therefore the film recording of it was urgent and should not be delayed.
(Mangolte 2003, accessed 2010.)

In order to better understand the dance and conceive the best camera angles from which to film it, Mangolte learnt to perform Water Motor herself. The filming took place in one day in the Merce Cunningham Dance Studio in New York. Mangolte shot Brown as she performed the solo twice. On the third take Mangolte impulsively decided to film in slow motion. She has described this choice:

I shot slow motion, knowing that it would reveal the dance and the movement in a totally different context. That which was almost too fast to see on the first viewing of Water Motor would be slower, and that which appeared to be frantic would become    lyrical. The slow motion version permits a second look at the choreography, and the spectators can marvel at what they remember and also what they missed the first time around.
(Mangolte, ‘Movement, Motion, Velocity and Stillness in Filming Dance’, in Gygax and Munder 2010, p.334.)

Further reading
Babette Mangolte, ‘On the Making of Water Motor, A Dance by Trisha Brown Filmed by Babette Mangolte’, 2003, (accessed 3 August 2010).
Lina Bertucci, ‘Babette Mangolte: Being Right in the Middle of it’, Flash Art, no.258, January–February 2008, (accessed 3 August 2010).
Raphael Gygax and Heike Munder (eds.), Between Zones; On the Representation of the Performative and the Notation of Movement, Zurich 2010, pp.307-335.

Rachel Taylor
August 2010

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