Trisha Brown, Choreographer and Pillar of American Postmodern Dance, Dies at 80

In 1983, she won European as well as American acclaim for “Set and Reset.” This intensely sensuous theater piece, with music by Laurie Anderson and designs by Rauschenberg, became the most beloved work ever made in postmodern dance. In the 1980s, her influence was cited by the American choreographers David Gordon, Mark Morris and Stephen Petronio; and her work began to join the repertories of other dance companies.

In 1988, the French government named Ms. Brown Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres. In January 2000 she was promoted to Officier and in 2004 to Commandeur. In 1991, she was named a MacArthur fellow, the first female choreographer to achieve this distinction.

Patricia Ann Brown was born on Nov. 25, 1936, to the former Dorothy Louise Abel, an English teacher, and Martell W. Brown, a salesman. In later years she often spoke of her debt to the landscapes of the Pacific Northwest. In public conversation with the choreographer Merce Cunningham (also from Washington State), she once remarked, “The rain forest was my first art class.”


Ms. Brown and Mikhail Baryshnikov performing “You Can See Us” in 1996.

Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Ms. Brown graduated from Weatherwax High School in Aberdeen in 1954 and studied modern dance at Mills College, in Oakland, Calif., earning a degree in 1958. She taught dance at Reed College in Oregon for the next academic year and also studied at the American Dance Festival summer schools of 1958, 1959 and 1961, learning especially from Louis Horst, the veteran pedagogue of modern dance composition.

Her next chief influences were the postmodern choreographer and teacher Robert Ellis Dunn and John Cage, the radical composer whose ideas on music and art opened up many possibilities.

After moving to New York in 1961, she…

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