Theater archives

Spring Guide 2012: Yvonne Rainer: A Dance Beacon at Dia:Beacon


Yvonne Rainer and The Village Voice go way back. 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of Judson Dance Theater, the iconoclastic, obstreperous, and deeply smart bunch of artists—Rainer prominent among them—who set the course for postmodernism in dance. From the beginning, the Voice‘s equally obstreperous dance critic, Jill Johnston, made it clear that the founding Judsonites (who included Steve Paxton, David Gordon, Trisha Brown, and Robert Rauschenberg) weren’t just playing around and trampling on tradition for the hell of it. One of my own first reviews for the Voice was of Rainer’s The Mind Is a Muscle in 1968, and my modern-dance mind-set had to do push-ups to see the work for what it was and not for what it wasn’t.

Rainer has been consistently identified with (perhaps pilloried by) a 1965 manifesto in which she repudiated most of the values associated with ballet and the current modern dance. “No to spectacle,” it began. “No to virtuosity. No to transformations and magic and make-believe. No to the glamour and transcendency of the star image.” And it ended with “No to moving or being moved.” The fact that she later repudiated most of those announcements was largely ignored, but those who followed her career could note how, over the years, she redefined virtuosity, transformation, narrative, and other aspects of theatricality to suit her own personal and artistically distanced view of life.

Rainer gradually pulled away from choreographing dances to become a cinematographer and between 1972 and 1996, wrote and directed (and sometimes acted in) films that won honors on the festival circuit. Then in 2000, Mikhail Baryshnikov asked her to make a dance for his White Oak Dance Project’s Past/Forward program—an homage to Judson days. Having left dance because she felt she couldn’t express through that medium (as she then defined it) the political and personal sentiments that increasingly interested her, Rainer returned to it and rediscovered the body. Not only the body, but the gamut of dance’s history and aspects of theater she shunned in her earliest work. In 2007, she deconstructed the debut performance of Vaslav Nijinsky’s 1913 Le Sacre du Printemps and called it RoS Indexical. The cast consisted of the four notable women thenceforth dubbed the Raindears (Pat Catterson, Emily Coates, Patricia Hoffbauer, and Sally Silvers).

In October 2011, Rainer restaged some of her earliest dances for performances in the upriver galleries at Dia:Beacon. The project was conceived in three parts; the second occurred the last weekend of February, and the program for the third (a single event, to be presented twice on the afternoon of May 13) consists of the large-group piece We Shall Run (1963), the seminal and long-lived Trio A (1966), Chair/Pillow (1969), and Assisted Living: Good Sports 2 (2011).

It’s fitting that this last, recent work of Rainer’s appears on the May program. Featuring the Raindears, Keith Sabado, and Emmanuelle Phuon, it also references images and strategies from earlier works of Rainer’s, along with the inventive task structures and workmanlike approach to performing that characterized many of the pieces shown at Judson Church and elsewhere in the 1960s. Assisted Living also reminds us that Rainer had—and has—a droll sense of humor and a delight in brainy play.

What could be more appealing on a fine late spring day than to take a Metro North train to Beacon, stroll to Dia, and watch the artful past jostle with present inventiveness? Yvonne Rainer, May 13, Dia:Beacon, 3 Beekman Street, Beacon, New York,

Michael Clark
March 29–April 8

British choreographer-dancer Michael Clark hasn’t presented work here in some time. We knew him best in the 1980s, when he collaborated with fashion designers and punk-rock bands. Now it’s museums. The success of his 2011 th, commissioned by London’s Tate Modern for its Turbine Hall, led to his being invited to create a site-specific work for the Whitney Biennial. As with the Tate piece, the new WHO’SZOO will be performed by both professional dancers and untrained recruits. The Whitney Museum of American Art, 945 Madison Avenue,

Jirí Kylián: ‘Last Touch First’
April 10–15

In 2004, Nederlands Dans Theater brought Jirí Kylián’s 2003 Last Touch to BAM. I wrote then that watching it was “like experiencing a silent Strindberg play performed at a butoh dancer’s pace.” In 2009, Michael Schumacher—formerly associated with Twyla Tharp Dance and Ballett Frankfurt—collaborated with Kylián on the hour-long Last Touch First. Slow-moving, revealing its Chekhovian influences, the mesmerizing piece features six mature dancers—alumni of Kylián’s former Nederlands Dans Theater III—in cryptic explorations of lust, despair, dreams, and derangement. Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue,

Faye Driscoll
April 12–21

Faye Driscoll is a postmillenium, postmodern wild woman. A wild woman with a scrupulous sense of form that she tweaks into eye-opening weirdness. Ferocious, hilarious, and disturbing, her pieces reference childhood games, pop culture, and her own history. In her new You’re Me, a duet she performs with Jesse Zaritt, she takes apart the ever-shifting push and pull of relationships and their funhouse distortions of daily existence. The Kitchen, 512 West 19th Street,

Trajal Harrell
April 25–28

“What would have happened in 1963 if someone from the voguing ball scene in Harlem had come downtown to perform alongside the early postmoderns at Judson Church?” Trajal Harrell asked himself that in 2009. The resulting works come in five sizes, from extra small (XS) to extra large (XL). In the new Antigone Sr./Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at the Judson Church (L), Harrell channels his exhilarating investigations of realness versus artificiality through Sophocles’ tragedy, via five male dancers—himself and four from abroad. New York Live Arts, 219 West 19th Street,

New York City Ballet
May 1–June 10

American Ballet Theatre
May 14–July 7

Our two world-class ballet companies have long, overlapping seasons at Lincoln Center. New York City Ballet offers beautiful, mostly homegrown dancers in classics by Balanchine and Robbins, plus premieres by Peter Martins and Benjamin Millepied. American Ballet Theatre focuses on acts-long fairy tales, augmenting its stellar roster with guests from overseas. In mid May, Alina Cojocaru, Diana Vishneva, and Natalia Osipova will all waft through Giselle. NYCB, David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center,; ABT, Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Center,

Pavel Zustiak/Palissimo
May 3–13

In November 2010, La MaMa unveiled the first part of Pavel Zustiak’s trilogy, The Painted Bird—a solo (Bastard) for the extraordinary Slovakian performer Jaro Vinarsky. In June 2011, spectators at the Baryshnikov Arts Center for the second part, Amidst, moved among and around the dancers. Zustiak’s long dark journey with its themes of solitude, displacement, and transformation will finally conclude with Painted Bird III: Strange Cargo, presented by Performance Space 122 in a different environment—one with a religious aura. Synod House, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine (entrance at Amsterdam Avenue and 110th Street),

John Jasperse Company
May 9–12

John Jasperse’s Fort Blossom was a 40-minute work. His revised and expanded Fort Blossom revisited (2012) lasts an hour, and its potency to provoke, astound, and conjecture has at least doubled. Jasperse juxtaposes two fully clad women, who resemble robotic airline stewardesses, to two naked men. The latter twine coolly and thoughtfully together, not prudish about presenting themselves to us ass-first. Issues of gender and sexuality, formalized by Jasperse’s artistry, will invade your brain long after the show. New York Live Arts, 219 West 19th Street,

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet
May 15–27

Cedar Lake, an ensemble of some of the city’s most physically gifted dancers, usually performs in its own black-box theater on West 26th Street. It’ll be interesting to view its New York premieres on a proscenium stage. As usual, director Benoit-Swan Pouffer has brought in choreographers from outside the U.S., notably the Israeli Hofesh Shechter (whose own company resides in the U.K.) and the equally intriguing Canadian Crystal Pite, as well as Sweden’s Alexander Ekman and the Netherlands’s Regina van Berkel. Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue,