Arte PoveraGo to Page 1 go to page two Page 3, you are here Link to Reed Mag  Home download a .pdf file of Reed Magazine


In the spring of 1996 José came home to Portland to die, though he never admitted he was dying. He came here because there were people here who loved him, offered to help him, and urged him to leave New York. He arrived in February, staying first with choreographer and teacher Vin Marti and his wife, Anna, then moving to the home of his friends Deborah Einbender, an artist, and Brian Heald, an architect. On March 26 he moved to Our House, an AIDS hospice.

José's professional career included holes in his shoes and homelessness, but it also included performances all over the world: Amsterdam, Florence, Greece, Turkey, India. He performed for the Queen of Denmark. He performed in Hamburg, Germany, and in the Philippines and in Tokyo and in Copenhagen.


Reed friend and classmate Mark Johnson '73: José just seemed to have a faith that in leaping forward without an apparent plan, there would be arms there to receive him. And, from my distance, it so often seemed to be true. . . . I find that my feelings now for him and about him are even stronger than they were when I was in touch with him. Then it was just José. Now there's something of the Reed heritage of the Bodhisattva about his memories. I've no doubt romanticized his life a great deal, knowing so little about it. But I wonder for how many people of our time, in Portland and at Reed, José's life functions as sort of a condenser or intensifier of our dreams, aspirations, and fantasies. He lived out so many aspects of our notion of the artist's life.

Heald: He was such a pain in the ass about food. At times you'd have to trick him. I talked to a friend, a chef, who'd cared for people with AIDS for a long time. I put the problem to him, "How do you get someone to eat when whatever they see on the plate is so unappealing?" He said, "Hunger begins with the eye. Food is actually a story. There's always a narrative people have behind their eating."
It was good having him here. He was good company. It was stimulating to be around him. His perspective as a citizen of the planet was truly singular.
I just can't imagine anybody else with his intelligence, his incredibly broad self-education. From reading, from travels. He'd been in Tehran just before the revolution. He'd been to Afghanistan. He went to India to make a presentation to Kalu Rinpoche on behalf of the Tibetan group here in Portland, which led to the lama coming here to reside. José was the emissary and danced for Kalu Rinpoche, a special dance that was very well received. He had a great eye as a contemporary anthropologist. He was outside of everything. There was no scene that he was in anywhere that he wasn't on the outside of in some way. He was an astute political observer

Einbender: To get started somewhere he would dance on the streets. He would gather a troupe from that act. He would just dance. Put a hat out. I remember him telling that's how he got started in Barcelona. First it was just him. And then there would be 10 of them on the street. And then they'd get a studio. And then they'd rent a hall. And then they'd get a grant.

Jose Brown and unidentified dancer

Scene from a dance


Letter to Reed classmate Aron Faegre '71, 1994

Dear Aron and Kathy: Gary, Indiana, is devastated with every fourth house in ruin--burned out or torn down. No economy. My mother refused to open the door to me. So I returned to NYC. Tired from bus rides and nervous exhaustion. From tomorrow I can piece together my "new life." Not all is clear. But the weather is now in my favor to work outside if the police permit.

Faegre: I think part of José's brilliance was his willingness to approach and engage the chaos of the universe, at a time when chaos was a word of little meaning in our culture. Now we know that chaos creates El Niño and La Niña, which in turn perhaps drives all the world's climates. For José there was no distinct line between modern dance and jazz and Jimi Hendrix and Bach. José and I shared a dream early on, of creating a traveling modern circus--of dance and mime, of clowns and classical music. Recently I saw Cirque du Soleil... It was of the spirit that José and I had imagined 29 years ago. It was about entertaining people, and surprising them, and mesmerizing them. His dance did that too.

From a review in Village Voice, September 15, 1987

"Brown rings dazzling changes, shifting in mid-phrase from balletic poses to Graham genuflections, from Indian classical dance to the dreamy concentration of the Japanese artist who assumes you can see into his mind. . . . Homo mobilis, an aboriginal dancer, he carries in his muscles imprints of thousands of years, thousands of miles of journeying to be here now. The impact of his hour and a half of exploring is to restore my confidence in arte povera, in the simplicity of materials required to create theatrical magic."

Louise Steinman '73 is the author of The Knowing Body: The Artist as Storyteller in Contemporary Performance, and her articles appear frequently in the Los Angeles Times and L.A. Weekly. Her new book The Souvenir: A Daughter Discovers Her Father's War is forthcoming from Algonquin in fall 2001. She curates literary and performing arts series for the Los Angeles Public Library and is a consultant and creative adviser to the Sundance Writers Fellowship Program. Her last article for Reed was about Lew Welch '50.



Reed outdoor instructor George Cummings:

Seven of us, including Akemi, took José's ashes
to Cannon Beach and scattered them in the Pacific Ocean at the mouth of Ecola Creek.
José had planned to go there
to perform a ceremony.
He didn't tell anyone what it was.

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