More Than Dance – The Exhibition “Yvonne Rainer. Space, Body, Language”

Yvonne Rainer: „Trio A“, 1973, The Portland Center for Visual Arts, Fotograf unbekannt; © The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2006.M.24)Yvonne Rainer, along with William Forsythe or Pina Bausch, is one of the most discussed artists of the present day – at least in the realm of dance and choreography. An extensive exhibition in the Museum Ludwig in Cologne in cooperation with the Kunsthaus Bregenz and the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles presents the first European retrospective and retraces the complexity and diversity of Yvonne Rainer’s work.

Born in America in 1934, Rainer followed a distinctly unusual path in her creative development. After a decade of dance projects in the milieu of a vibrant and radical artistic avant-garde she turned to film, and in the seventies and eighties of the 20th century she was almost better known as a filmmaker than as a choreographer. Not until the late 1990s did a young generation of dance artists begin to take an interest in Yvonne Rainer’s dance oeuvre that she had developed primarily while working in New York with the Judson Dance Theatre, which she had co-founded in 1962. A comprehensive retrospective of Yvonne Rainer’s artistic work is now the focus of an exhibition in the Museum Ludwig in Cologne. In cooperation with the Kunsthaus Bregenz, where the exhibition was already shown in spring in a different architectural setting, a remarkably precise portrayal has emerged, supported by an abundance of multi-faceted documentary material.

From dance piece to the process

Yvonne Rainer: „Assisted Living: Good Sports 2“, 2011, Baryshnikov Arts Center, New York; Foto: Paula Court. Courtesy of Performa; © Paula Court. Courtesy of PerformaSome years ago Rainer gave her artistic and - to some extent - private archive to the Getty Research Institute in California as a pre-mortem bequest. This proved to be a treasure trove for the exhibition. On display are programme leaflets, posters, photographs, work sketches and scores of her important choreographic works. These were always conceived by Rainer as complex processes rather than as completed pieces. Many of her dances were supplemented, extended, recombined, performed with varying casts. What is remarkable here is that many of her pieces were not performed in the theatres and on the institutional stages but in museums and in universities. The meticulously documented photographs bear witness to presentations in gymnasiums, university auditoriums and improvised performance rooms with linoleum floors. For Rainer, who in insider circles very quickly became one of the best-known dance artists, was not suitable for “big dance evenings”. She had soon eschewed this expectation with regard to the art form, also in her famous essay “A quasi survey of some ‹minimalist› tendencies in the quantitatively minimal dance activity midst the plethora, or an analysis of Trio A2, a component of which was her No Manifesto: “NO to spectacle, no to virtuosity ... no to the glamour and transcendency of the star image ... no to moving or being moved“.

Dance is more than dance

Yvonne Rainer: „Trio A“, Performance mit StudentInnen des Zentrums für Zeitgenössischen Tanz/HfMT, Köln im Museum Ludwig, Köln, April 2012, © Yvonne Rainer, Museum Ludwig, Köln; Foto: Anke SchwarzerYet it was not so much refusal but rather expansion that was important to Rainer. Dance should become close to life, see itself as a series of activities derived from all spheres of life, everyday life as well as pop culture. In her article in the catalogue Catherine Wood casts an insightful light on this search for an art production in dance that is oriented to “tasks” and focuses on its realisation in a neutral “work-like” approach. Her dance pieces should therefore be ”group activities”. Against this background it is remarkable that of all pieces Trio A, her so-called “signature piece”, which was developed as part of a larger choreographic project (The Mind is a Muscle, part 1) soon began to lead a life of its own – and this in the solo version. Today Trio A is the only dance work of Rainer’s that has been recorded in its full length. The film was made in 1978, so some years after Rainer had almost completely abandoned dance in favour of film. In accordance with the author’s wishes, however, the recording may not be used as a source for the numerous reconstructions, new arrangements and creative processes that have been proliferating for some years now. Nevertheless, Trio A is virtually the only piece of Rainer’s that has entered the repertoire of contemporary dance.

From dance to film to dance

„Parts of Some Sextets“, März 1965, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT; Foto: Peter Moore; © Estate of Peter Moore/Licensed by VAGA, NYThe exhibition takes as its central theme the continuity rather than the breaks in Rainer’s work. Strictly chronological in concept, the first dance pieces, the group processes that evolved from these and Rainer’s increasing contact with the visual artists of her generation are presented. The last part is dedicated to her filmmaking, which from the very beginning was imbued with Rainer’s choreographic experiences. Thus, for instance, Lives of Performers from 1972 is the portrayal of the rehearsal process of a dance group, while Film about a woman who… (1974) was first shown as a stage version.

„Performance“, April 1972, Whitney Museum of American Art, NYC; Foto: Babette Mangolte; © Babette MangolteRainer’s Return to Dance since 2000 seems, in contrast, to have attained hallowed status: in the last section of the exhibition Babette Mangolte’s film recordings of AG Indexical (2006) and RoS Indexical (2007) are to be seen in cinema-like darkrooms on large projection screens and with full sound, while the feature films and other film documents mostly run on monitors. In the end it is the works that we revere, not the interim exploratory movements.

Yvonne Rainer. Space, Body, Language 28. April to 29. July 2012 in the Museum Ludwig, Cologne
The bilingual catalogue book costs € 38,-
Franz Anton Cramer
The author is a dance scholar and publicist. He has been in charge of the project area “Cultural Heritage Dance” for Tanzplan Deutschland since 2007.

Translation: Heather Moers
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
May 2012

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