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Portrait of the artist: Trisha Brown, choreographer

'Climbing trees and playing sports were my first lessons in art'

What got you started?

I grew up in Aberdeen, in Washington state, which provided a luscious green environment for an imaginative mind. I climbed trees, played sports, hunted and fished with my dad. These were my first lessons in art. I have early memories of movement while playing outside as a child – and I integrate playing into my dance. Of course, I also had formal training: I studied ballet, tap and acrobatics, although I didn't know whether I wanted to go into visual art or dance. I lived between those two until the Accumulations [a series of accumulating pieces made in the 1970s]. Now I live between them again.

What was your big breakthrough?

It was in a now infamous improvisation workshop in New York led by Anna Halprin in 1959. That's when I first got to "fly" [leaving the ground in a spectacular way]. I've been smitten with improvisation ever since: the spirit of playing, and its rhythmic structure, transports me back to my childhood days. And I've always wanted to fly.

Who or what have you sacrificed for your art?

For me, it's all connected. Anything I've done for my art has never felt like a sacrifice.

Your work is closely associated with the precepts of visual art. Are artists too often expected to conform to just one art form?

I've never been worried about what is expected of me. When I first arrived in New York, much of my work was reacting against convention, pretension, romanticism and sentimentality. It was about art. Not visual art or dance art – just art. I'm disappointed to see these distinctions creeping back in. They were dissolved in the 1960s for good reason.

What song or piece of music would work as the soundtrack to your life?

My life has been located between the notes of Laurie Anderson, Alvin Curran, John Cage, countless marching bands, Bach and recently Jean-Philippe Rameau. It's a diverse and complicated soundtrack, but it is brilliant. Maybe William Christie can conduct it.

What are you most proud of?

My work with the National Arts Council in the 1990s [meeting US politicians to advocate for arts funding]. Art reflects the world around us and what the world could become. Bringing that message to those who control funding was a labour of love.

Which other artists, in any art form, do you most admire?

My dear friend Bob Rauschenberg. There aren't enough words for me to describe the friendship we had.

Complete this sentence, please: At heart, I'm just a frustrated ...

I'm not frustrated. I've been incredibly fortunate to have a rich, varied career where I could follow my impulses.

How would you like to be remembered?

As a dancer. I've said before that I'm a bricklayer with a sense of humour. I'd like people to remember that.

In short

Born: Aberdeen, Washington, 1936.

Career: Worked with the avant-garde Judson Dance Theater in the 1960s. Formed the Trisha Brown Dance Company in 1970 and is also an accomplished artist and opera director. Her company perform on 9 May at the Brighton Dome ( or 01273 709709). © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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