#TBT: Yvonne Rainer On the "Messianic Zeal" She Brought to Judson and Beyond

March 24, 2021

In 1961, Yvonne Rainer presented her first solo study, Three Satie Spoons. It marked the start of a prolific career, the early years of which helped to define the experimental, anything-goes sensibility that emerged from Judson Dance Theater in the mid-1960s.

She penned the ” ‘No’ manifesto” (“No to spectacle. No to virtuosity…”), which has come to be regarded as the seminal text of the era, in 1965. (She revisited it with “A Manifesto Reconsidered” in 2008, annotating the original.) Trio A, her best-known dance work, notable for its non-presentational manner and purposeful lack of dynamic variation, followed in 1966.

Yvonne Rainer, in dark trousers and a patterned tank top, lifts her chin serenely as she runs, muscled arms extending gracefully from her sides as she gives in to gravity. Behind her, fabric splattered with dark blotches.
Yvonne Rainer in performance, circa 1964

Courtesy DM Archives

Reflecting on the Judson period in the September 1982 issue of Dance Magazine, she said: “It was a very intense period. There was new ground to be broken and we were standing on it. It was a time when the only real experimentation in dance had been done by Cunningham. But that still hadn’t been really picked up….The dance establishment had outlived its time. After going to lots of modern dance, I was getting madder and madder. I was the kind of person who would boo at dance concerts…I felt, probably more than a lot of people, a kind of messianic zeal.”

Rainer left choreography to focus on filmmaking in 1973, before being lured back to dance by a commission from Mikhail Baryshnikov in 2000.

Now 86, she’s still making dances. Last spring, she even wrote a movement score for people holed up in their homes during the pandemic, which was published in The New York Times. The title? “Passing and Jostling While Being Confined to a Small Apartment.”