In the early 1960s, a group of dancers started questioning the existing rules of choreography. Influenced by John Cage, they created dances that were startling in their simplicity and risk-taking. Yvonne Rainer, Steve Paxton, Trisha Brown, David Gordon, Deborah Hay, Elaine Summers and Lucinda Childs were all part of this group. Most of them had studied or danced with Anna Halprin or Simone Forti. Visual artists like Robert Rauschenberg and Alex Hay were part of this cauldron of experimentation as well as composer Philip Corner.
The Museum of Modern Art has mounted an expansive exhibit called "Judson Dance Theater: The Work Is Never Done." It gathers photos, artwork, scores, objects and films that bring the period alive. If you get there before January 16, you'll see the films of Brown's early work. Her piece Walking on the Wall was so disorienting that it was almost hallucinatory. (Actually, this film and most of the Brown pieces are from the 70s.) Playing with perception was a big part of the Judson and post-Judson eras.
Some of the work shown at Judson was a bit outlandish, like blowing up a room-sized balloon, but, hey, this was the 60s! Everyone was questioning authority and doing wild things. The performers paid more attention to process than to product—very Halprin.
The Judson explosion of experimentation was sparked by a composition class taught by Robert Dunn in the Merce Cunningham studio. He introduced Cage's method of indeterminacy, which freed the students to try out all kinds of things. They experimented with objects, sounds, falling, running, walking, game structures and everyday gesture. Collaboration was in the air, and the painters, sculptors, dancers and musicians all activated each other's imaginations.
This exhibit includes a lot more than I have space to report here, but one tasty tidbit is a film clip by Andy Warhol of Jill Johnston and Fred Herko on a rooftop.
This is our last of the "What Wendy's Watching" series. If you want to see any of our past episodes, you can find them here.