Student dancers walk in seemingly erratic paths around Studio 305 in Barnard Hall, some of them holding objects like an empty plastic bottle or a cardboard box. These objects spontaneously drop from the dancer’s hands. The sound of a plastic bottle hitting the ground echoes throughout the studio. Each individual’s disparate path comes to one, but the movement doesn’t stop; they continuously move, but now as one entity. In front of them sits Yvonne Rainer, this year’s Lida A. Orzeck ’68 Distinguished Artist-in-Residence, quietly gazing.
Rainer was announced as the Artist-in-Residence this past February. She was one of the founders of the Judson Dance Theater, a New York-based collective of prominent artists which performed between 1962 and 1964. A leading figure in early postmodern and minimalist movement in dance, Rainer achieved fame through work in dance, film, and choreography. Her art is known to have deep feminist tones, and she has expressed feminist ideals both through her work and outside of her work by going to demonstrations.
The performance in Studio 305 was the culmination of Rainer’s workshops, “Texts / Objects / Movement: Metaphors for Performance,” that was held on April 6 and 7 and featured Barnard and Columbia students involved in the visual and performing arts. The choreography was inspired by newspaper photographs interpreted by the student performers. The performance was marked by sporadic readings of texts—typical of Rainer’s work.
In the past couple of years, Rainer started to focus more on reading texts as part of the performance of her choreographic work rather than performing herself.
“There’s not much movement coming out of this 84-year-old body, so I read. I do a lot of reading. I wander around the stage, and sometimes, someone will come over and put me down on the floor on a pillow, and I’ll continue reading,” Rainer said in an interview with Spectator.
This type of performance may seem unorthodox to some but is rather delightful to those familiar with her work, which is often characterized as experimental and sometimes challenging.
“For some people who’ve been following my work, it’s not challenging, it’s pleasurable. But for others, people still walk out. … It’s a whole range of responses,” Rainer said.
Rainer began to make films while working as a dancer and choreographer in the early 1970s. She won many awards throughout her film career, including the MacArthur Fellowship, also known as the Genius Grant, which, along with funding received from other awards, she used to create her last film, “MURDER and murder.” The film was one of seven feature films she created in the span of 25 years, and was one of the three films screened on campus as part of her residency last month, along with “Privilege” and “Lives of Performers.”
“One reason I turned to film is because of the specificity of language, because I wanted to deal with more political and social issues,” Rainer said. “Then also, [there are] the confines of the film, cinematic frame. … There just seems to be a wider range of possibility, interacting with language, text, intertitles, and visual images.”
Although Rainer’s works have been associated with political movements and ideologies, such as feminism, her work materializes organically—an expression of herself—rather than with specific intent.
“One contemporary of mine, I remember, many, many years ago, said, ‘I want to be treated like a queen.’ Well, I never wanted to that kind of attention, or deference, and I’d gotten just enough [attention] to continue doing my work,” Rainer said. “In other words, I have never expected my work to change the world. I think the Judson Church movement did change the course of dance, and widened the permissions. … But beyond that, I never expected it to have political effect, you know. And when I wanted to be effective, I continued to go to demonstrations.”
As the artist-in-residence, Rainer will stage her dance “Again? What Now?” this upcoming fall for Barnard/Columbia Dances at New York Live Arts. This performance will feature students across Barnard and Columbia, based on the outcome of the audition that will be held on Sept. 3.
While Rainer taught at the Claire Trevor School of the Arts at the University of California, Irvine for eight years, she hasn’t interacted with students pedagogically since her retirement.
She has also been writing an essay for the past two years, an ongoing project that will culminate into a short book.
“Coming into [the residency], I felt kind of rusty, but then you know, [the students] respond, and it becomes a very fertile ground for the same old ideas, but they take them up in different ways,” Rainer said.
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