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Harold M. Williams Auditorium - J. Paul Getty Museum
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Yvonne Rainer's 'Two Works' Program at Getty Brings Beauty to Simplicity

by Jessica Abrams
October 21, 2014
Harold M. Williams Auditorium - J. Paul Getty Museum
1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90049
(310) 440-7300
In 1965, dancer, choreographer, filmmaker and writer Yvonne Rainer created what she called a "No Manifesto", a set of rules to demystify dance and make the art (and the process) less precious and elusive for the audience. It is a list of thirteen qualities that, prior to Rainer and her post-modern compatriots, figured largely into the way dance performance was experienced. It is as follows:
No to spectacle.
No to virtuosity.
No to transformations and magic and make-believe.
No to the glamour and transcendency of the star image.
No to the heroic.
No to the anti-heroic.
No to trash imagery.
No to involvement of performer or spectator,
No to style.
No to camp.
No to seduction of spectator by the wiles of the performer.
No to eccentricity.
No to moving or being moved.

As a founding member of the Judson Dance Theater which included such doyennes as Lucinda Childs and Trisha Brown, Rainer blazed trails that moved dance into the realm of the abstract, where movement itself – in most cases, simple pedestrian movements and gestures – became the anchor of the dances. The structure of movement, of shapes in space as well as simple, often repetitive patterns, took the place of dramatic narrative rich with emotion.

Yvonne Rainer: Two Works at the J. Paul Getty Museum on October 12 began with her "Assisted Living: Do You Have Any Money?" and in many ways exemplified her ethos perfectly. The piece began with a black stage and a cacophony of sounds smashed together to create an auditory chaos, an apocalyptic symphony of destruction peppered occasionally with a cat's meowing and a baby's crying. Then, the stage lights up and Yvonne Rainer herself, taking on the role of a carnival barker, stands on a sofa and asks us in her mic, to "step right up. It's show time."

Her five dancers come onstage and take their positions in what looks like a random cluster. They wear sweats that could pass for street clothes. With arms clasped at elbows behind their backs, they stand upright and perform a series of movements. In silence they rond de jambe, execute what resembles a tap dance step, jump and wiggle. The pattern is repeated again and again and the delicate sound of footwork, and only footwork, becomes the music.

Dancers – and Rainer herself – take turns talking about pertinent social and political issues plaguing the country today: Iraq, same-sex marriage, the system of incarceration, Keynesian economics. But they always come back to the same pattern of footwork, to the same rhythm. And in a way, as much as we want to get carried away by the injustice being read to us, the rhythmic pattern is comforting and brings us back to a safe place.

In her next piece, "The Concept of Dust, or How Do You Look When There's Nothing Left To Move?" a narrative is read to us over the sound system about a hedgehog found in Canada and its relationship to global warming. Then, as before, the five dancers begin their movement – jazzy, this time — before they break apart and run in circles and then push against one another in a huddle. Rainer is once again a presence on stage, sitting in a chair off to the side, occasionally bringing the mic and pages over to a particular dancer to read aloud about the history of the Muslims, for instance. The movement is whimsical, mournful, playful and athletic. It is always simple, spared of frills or fanfare. Its very simplicity creates a space for we the audience to find our own meaning, or none at all.

Dancers break existing formations to create new ones; and with each one new one, she or he creates a separate orbit, with distinctly different tones, rhythms and relationships to space. Dancers lean and huddle, then take turns bringing a pillow over to another dancer on another part of the stage and gently ease them onto it where they then lay their heads. The use of space has the appearance of being random, with no clear patterns or symmetrical order. Different movements – or none at all – with different rhythms happen in different parts of the stage at the same time. And instead of it all being a spectacle – the first on the list of qualities on Rainer's No Manifesto – it is as if we are privy to a series of private acts – quiet, humble, and heartbreakingly mundane.

There is something so human about these gestures – both the repetitive ones the dancers perform on their own and the ones executed as a unit. The way one dancer lowers another onto the pillow says everything about what it means to help someone in need, to create community – that we find ourselves imposing a memory, a thought, a feeling on the dance. The silence alone allows us to fill in the gaps, to express our own feelings into the space. And, as such, despite her strict ethic in terms of preventing it from happening, we are moved.
'Assisted Living: Do you have any money?', Yvonne Rainer, 2013. Performers, left to right: Patricia Hoffbauer, Emmanuèlle Phuon, Yvonne Rainer, Pat Catterson, Keith Sabado, and Emily Coates.

"Assisted Living: Do you have any money?", Yvonne Rainer, 2013. Performers, left to right: Patricia Hoffbauer, Emmanuèlle Phuon, Yvonne Rainer, Pat Catterson, Keith Sabado, and Emily Coates.

Photo © & courtesy of Ian Douglas

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