Yvonne Rainer – Decade of Radical Experimentation

“As someone cursed with the wayward gait of a drunk learning to ice-skate, I’m prone to thinking of dancers as a special, slightly frightening breed of magical creature, like the earthly descendants of certain birds. How, then, to make sense of Yvonne Rainer’s ‘Dance Works’, which sends me into this familiar state of baffled awe but depends on something other than exquisite technique? (It even permits a certain carefully rendered clumsiness.) Bruce Nauman’s contemporaneous and uncanny trapeze act, Walking in an Exaggerated Manner around the Perimeter of a Square (1967–68), is a much more useful guide here than the heart-fluttering theatrics of Swan Lake. But maybe bewilderment is the desired response. This sprawling retrospective captured over a decade of radical experimentation stretching from 1961 to 1972, in which Rainer found the contours of her own enigmatic and slyly contorted form of choreography. In an inspired move, curator Catherine Wood juxtaposed a shifting sextet’s live recital of four pieces – two of them never before performed in Britain – with a programme of short films including various movement studies, recordings of rehearsals and Rainer’s first (and most ghostly) fiction film. It was a combination that illuminated the reticent strangeness of works half a century old then fully restored their modern shock. If at first its contents seemed thorny and hermetic, spun out of rhythms too maddeningly difficult to crack, then slow adjustment to its wavelengths revealed a mercurial, discreetly astonishing sort of art that encourages puzzlement, disorientation and awkwardness in the bodies of its dancers and the minds of its audience alike. There’s no obfuscating virtuosity here, only a set of riddling enquiries into dancing itself. The biographical prelude to this run of game-changing pieces is rich with seductive detail. Rainer began circulating in New York’s subterranean art world in the mid-1950s as Minimalism and performance art took shape.  …”
The Paris Review – Narcissism and Pleasure: An Interview with Yvonne Rainer
MUBI (Video)

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