Surprisingly or not, Yvonne Rainer’s first performance in Spain took place last December 2017 as invited by MACBA (Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona) within the frame of the exhibition “Focus at infinity” fully dedicated to the minimalist artist who happened to have danced in the choreographer’s pieces during the sixties, Rosemarie Castoro (New York, 1939-2015). The pioneer of conceptual and minimalist choreography first visit in Barcelona was held between MACBA’s auditorium, where she gave a fictionalised lecture under the title “A Truncated History of the Universe for Dummies”, Mercat de les Flors, where the ongoing piece “The Concept of Dust: Continuous Project – Altered Annually”, which was originated at the Getty Center in 2014, was presented. As regards Rosemarie Castoro, who died two years ago, Rainer pointed out the poor acknowledgement women have received in the art world: “She was eclipsed by her male contemporaries. I was very fortunate in a way. In my contemporaries I always encouraged my ambitions. Definitely, it was a more acceptable place to stay for women in the choreography world than the art.” With Yvonne Rainer, MACBA and Mercat de les Flors common project has just started off, and the next artist to be presented in both institutions is the French choreographer Boris Charmatz.
Rather not popular at all, but definitely an influential artist, Yvonne Rainer (San Francisco, 1934) was along with Trisha Brown and other artists one of the founders of the Judson Dance Theater in 1962. “Trio A”, a piece she choreographed in 1966 is a milestone of postmodern dance. She had moved to New York in the fifties where she studied to be an actor, but she quickly gave up and started training with masters like Martha Graham and Merce Cunnigham. The turning point in her career was the summer school organised by Anna Halprin in 1960 in California, where she met Brown. Rainer became the most polemic member of the Judson Dance Theater. Her style, which from the start had been eclectic, was almost surrealistic. She mingled sounds and movements randomly like Cunningham, but instead of making the dancers move through stylised movements, she advocated for pedestrian expression or ordinary dance like in “We shall run” (1962) in which she used dancers and non-dancers to just run following several patterns.
To produce movement Rainer basically assigns tasks to the dancers, because rather than “performing”, she asks dancers to “just do it”. After the Judson Dance Theater she founded along her dancers the Grand Union in 1970, but in this decade she changed her creative interest towards cinema. Rainer on her transition into filmmaking: “I made my choreography in the sixties with a sort of compendium of different dances. Sometimes we spoked when we danced, but I was being influenced by feminism and politics and I didn’t feel I could make a kind of dance that could have accommodated all these things I wanted to say in a social and political ground. One might have gone to play-writing, stage-craft, but to me film was a natural place to go with all its possibilities combining language with image. I had followed experimental film, what was called the New American Cinema from a very early age and European Art Cinema like Renoir or Pasolini, because my father (from Italian origin) brought me see these movies.” Two decades, the (perhaps) most improbable fellow artist brought her back to choreography. Mikhail Baryshnikov invited Rainer, who at that point was writing poetry after having abandoned filmmaking, to create a piece for White Oak Dance Project in 2000. For Rainer returning to dance was a homecoming experience as she told the journalists in the press conference, and she pinpointed that in that particular work, “After the summer dies the swan”, with Baryshnikov the challenge was “bringing him down to Earth.”
Yet, somehow the topics that drew her away from dance, which are partially politics and social criticism are still very much in the centre of her creative process. “The Concept of Dust” dwells on aging, obsolescence or the art of making history. On stage Rainer holds a microphone, she reads and makes the dancers read texts that range from speeches by politicians and philosophers, literary quotes, the intricacies of Middle Eastern dynasties, or writings of her own. Language as a trajectory runs in parallel to the other two layers: music (Gavin Bryars, Giovanni Paisiello) and the movement or actions which six dancers – Pat Catterson, Emily Coates, Patricia Hoffbauer, Emmanuelle Phuon, Keith Sabado, David Thomson – unfold throughout an hour. This open-ended structure in “Dust”, developed through the spontaneous decisions the dancers make, “unable an unforeseen effect: a community as they work”. In terms of movement, the piece ends up being a thrilling archive of actions.
Words can be choreographed and Rainer demonstrates just that in her fictionalised lecture in which she pretends to be Apollo. In this dramatic presentation: “I come down to Earth to try to make things better for humankind. So, I find myself in deep shit and outraged and upset”, describes Rainer when she is asked about the lecture. “A Truncated History of the Universe for Dummies” is really a response to the disgust of having Trump as president of the United States. The very “angry lecture” took place at MACBA’s auditorium, cramped with a congregation of dance students, professionals and journalists. Without pomposity, Rainer took the audience through a journey full of references to the present blending the mundane with the mythical, and from time to time she made sure her devoted Catalan audience understood the meaning of idiomatic English. In Rainer’s creative impulse there’s always this contradiction between the rejection to the theatrical and virtuosity, yet at the same time the transcendence of her thinking randomly choreographed but deeply thorough.