Yvonne Rainer and a Celebration of Judson

October 30, 2010

Seeing a celebration of Judson Church last night reminded me how interdisciplinary Judson Dance Theater really was. And also how it was part of a continuum of the arts at Judson that started in the 50s.

The series was called “A Sanctuary for the Arts: Judson Memorial Church and the Avant-Garde: 1955–1977.” Yvonne Rainer performed a new version of Trio A; Malcolm Goldstein played a 1962 piece by Philip Corner in which he and his violin moved as one; and Claes Oldenburg had donated drawings to a poster. One reason Judson Dance Theater thrived in the early Sixties was the context: The Judson Poets Theatre and the Judson Gallery were already there.

In Yvonne’s Trio A: Geriatric With Talking, her dry sense of humor was in full bloom. At 76, her dancer self is still discernible within her moving body. But she substituted some of the more difficult moves with fun, forlorn commentary (“I used to be able to get up over my knees in one fell swoop”) or merely with effortful sighs and grunts. When one member of the audience blew his nose loudly—almost a honk—she quipped, “That’s good accompaniment.”

One of the things I love about Yvonne is that she allows in all kinds of source material. She’s not just interested in making phrases (in fact Trio A is emphatically not made up of phrases but of strings of movements). She also brings in whatever’s stimulating her intellectually at the time. In this case, she placed some typed pages on the floor, each with a quote about politics and art from a novel by J. M. Coetzee. She read these passages as interruptions of those strings of movement.

Other evidence of the melding of different disciplines: Carolee Schneemann, a visual artist who later became known for her brazen performance art pieces and assemblages, blew the whistle to signal the start of her Lateral Splay (1963). In this dance, 11 people dash around, bunk into each other and collapse, lope over each other, or spin till they drop. A straight-forward task dance, it was youthful, rambunctious, unruly.

Another was a piece by Aileen Passloff (artistic director of this event) called Falling Dance. The concept is by Remy Charlip, a Judson dancer and visual artist who now lives in California. For his “air mail dances,” he would send drawings to various colleagues and they would interpret them. This edition was particularly moving, mostly because it was performed by Arthur Aviles, who is riveting to watch no matter what he’s doing. Here he reached up with a kind of robust serenity to achieve the line of one of Remy’s figures. He did the yoga crow pose and then let his legs air-lift onto a sofa nearby. He ran like the wind. (Arthur is part of a post-Judson generation and was a student of Passloff’s at Bard.)

Not only were artists of different disciplines linking up (Robert Rauschenberg created many performance pieces off-site), but Judson was a place where all kinds of activists were welcomed. Rev. Howard Moody thought of the church as a refuge for all kinds of people in the Village community. It’s been involved in civil rights, offered counseling to drug addicts, given shelter to protesters, supported the gay movement, and fought for abortion rights. The words liberal and liberation were happy words back then.

The Fales Library exhibit that prompted these performances will be up until January 7, 2011. Click here for more info.