A Triple Blast from the Sixties

November 18, 2009

It’s been a big week for the 1960s. Yvonne Rainer and Deborah Hay were produced by Performa 09 at Baryshnikov Art Center, and Anna Halprin’s Parades and Changes got “re-enacted” at DTW. The only common denominator among all three was experimentation—and a love of the absurd. Yvonne and Deborah share something about non-sequiturs. Deborah and Anna share something about ritual. Yvonne is close to my heart in stacking words up against movement. They all embrace a willingness to be odd, to be outside the mainstream, to be far out.


In her program notes for Spiraling Down, Yvonne Rainer cites 51 “sources, references, and inspirations” including Fred Astaire, Lily Tomlin, Sylvia Plath, and Jerome Robbins. She loves to slam unlike things together, making the viewers connect the dots. Her dancers are four women who have little in common stylistically: Pat Catterson, Emily Coates, Patricia Hoffbauer, and Sally Silvers. They know how to relish the ridiculous and how to break out of that into neutrality.


Deborah Hay’s If I Sing to You took her six women performers far into themselves, or rather into alternate selves (three were in drag). Nearly inaudible mumbling alternated with full-out outrageous sexual and scatological outbursts. Embarrassing little body preoccupations blossomed into big berserk liberations. Jeanine Durning took it away with her spellbinding ability to splice together characters in split-second chunks: child/clown/plumber/slut. She was breathtaking in her bawdiness, at one point recklessly wrapping the cord of the studio phone around her crotch. There was no escaping her transgressive brilliance.


Parades and changes, replays,
by French choreographed Anne Collod, slowed everything down. Six performers passed through the “scores” that Halprin, together with composer Morton Subotnick, created in 1965. And yes, they did the famous “Dress and Undress” scene. Of course, it was not at all prurient but allowed each dancer, during her slow undressing, to have her/his own attitude from solemn to smug.


My favorite sections were 1) Morton conducting the six performers’ monologues as they sat in separate places in the audience, 2) the paper event, in which the dancers ripped a big strip of brown paper and eventually threw swaths of it in the air (hint: this section had golden side lighting so looked more gorgeous and sunset-y than the bareness of other sections), and 3) the surreal procession of performers trying on various surreal objects until they pile all the objects onto only two dancers, who, thus burdened, walk through the audience and up the stairs into the outside world, to the mounting crashes of Subotnick’s score. (Disclosure: I moderated a pre-performance “Coffee and Conversation” that night._


All these three performances value process over product, a key idea of the ’60s. These kinds of performance planted the seeds for the Grand Union, that amazing improv group of the early 70s. Grand Union had the crazy introvert/crazy extrovert thing that Deborah Hay puts forth, the brainy words-plus-dancing that Yvonne is into (of course, Yvonne is the one who started the Grand Union, around 1969), and the slowed down ritualistic anarchism of Halprin. This last week was a crash course in the building blocks of the Grand Union—and the building blocks of postmodern dance.


Pictured: Patricia Hoffbauer, Pat Catterson, Sally Silvers, and Emily Coates in Rainer’s
Spiraling Down. Photo by Paula Court, Courtesy Performa 09.