50 Years of John Cage’s Art-As-Life Philosophy

July 1, 2012

Fifty years ago the Judson rebellion rocked the downtown dance world. Movement Research will be marking the exact day, this Friday, at the exact place, Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village, where it all started.

Judson Dance Theater was influenced by Merce Cunningham’s cool aesthetic, but even moreso by John Cage’s philosophy of merging art and life. It was a group of dancers and other artists who challenged the aesthetics and methods of modern dance. They stripped down the theatrics and starting all over with human-scale experiments. Key figures included Yvonne Rainer, Steve Paxton, Deborah Hay, Trisha Brown, David Gordon, Elaine Summers, Robert Rauschenberg, and Carollee Schneemann.

Here is what Yvonne Rainer says about herself the photo above: “This is the second section of a three-part solo…during which I slow motion from one corner of Judson Gym to the other like a goofy, sexy, crippled, possessed, audience-be-damned nothing-to-lose, shameless female critter…That’s Al Carmines with hand-to-mouth, beside him Gretchen MacLane, and beside her Jennifer Tipton.”

Rainer won’t be there on Friday, but Elaine Summers and Carolee Schneemann will. Both are intrepid pioneers. Summers was the first downtown dancer to incorporate film in her dance works, and she was also the inventor of kinetic awareness, or the “great ball work.” She has healed many a dancer (me being one) with her approach to releasing muscles by—to greatly oversimplify—lying on rubber balls.

Famous for breaking taboos about the body, Schneemann added a sensual, bawdy, Dionysian element to Judson. In her Lateral Splay, the performers ran in all directions until they crashed into one another. In Meat Joy, partially nude dancers writhed on the floor amid raw chicken, fish, and sausage.

What can I say? There was every kind of experimenter at Judson. To learn more about the free event Friday, July 6, go to the Movement Research calendar and scroll down. —Wendy Perron