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.
Jennifer Kahn knew the theater industry could do better. As a professional stage manager for 17 years she worked on regional, off-Broadway and Broadway shows. Nearly each time a show closed, something unsettling happened: "I would watch them throw away our shows. All of the beautiful artwork by my friends in the paint shop would go in the trash." The elaborate backdrops? Gone.
But she had an idea: What if the material used in the backdrops and legs could be upcycled into something new? And what if theater lovers could literally keep a piece of a beloved show?
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.
For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.
New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.
"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "
She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.