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Celebrating Postmodern Dance from Coast to Coast

Yvonne Rainer in Three Seascapes (1962), photo by Al Giese

It’s well known that postmodern dance started in the early 1960s with a burst of experimentation by a rag-tag group of rebels called Judson Dance Theater in Greenwich Village. They broke with the expressionism of Martha Graham and the theme-and-variations structure of Doris Humphrey. They walked, they ran, they touched the earth and fell onto each other. They aligned with Minimalist artists and musicians in their wish to strip down to essentials—in fact many of the musicians and artists made their own dances. They were all influenced by Merce Cunningham and John (any-sound-can-be-music) Cage, but developed their own styles. And that's how modern dance morphed into postmodern dance.

What is less known is how much of this revolution was influenced by Anna Halprin in the Bay Area. It was Halprin, now 96, on her mountainside outdoor deck in 1960, who developed improvisation as a method of research as well as performance. Many of the pioneers of postmodern dance, including Yvonne Rainer, Simone Forti and Trisha Brown, had studied with Halprin. (And guess what—so did Murray Louis!) They learned to improvise, commune with nature and engage in everyday tasks rather than make polished theatrical dances. They performed on the beach, in parks and in church basements.

Anna Halprin's Branch Dance, c. 1957. From left: A.A. Leath, Halprin, Forti, photo by Warner Jepson

This coming week, an exhibit and conference at UC Santa Barbara seeks to reset that balance. Titled “Radical Bodies: Anna Halprin, Simone Forti, and Yvonne Rainer in California and New York, 1955–1972,” it displays more than 150 rare photos, scores and other artifacts as well as excerpts of films from that period. You can watch clips of Halprin’s famous Parades and Changes (1965), Yvonne Rainer’s Trio A with Flags (1966, 1970) and Simone Forti’s wildly careening Roller Boxes (1960).

Dance Magazine cover, Nov. 1966, on Halprin''s experiments in the environment

How do I know all this? Well, I am one of three co-curators, and I find the '60s era fascinating and inspiring. I invite everyone to attend either the conference and performances or the exhibit, which continues until April 30. The exhibit comes to the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center May 24 to Sept. 16, 2017.


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