Tramway celebrates radical career of Yvonne Rainer

Tramway celebrates radical career of Yvonne Rainer

The Tramway celebrates four decades of Yvonne Rainer’s radical career in dance and film, writes Kelly Apter

Like many artforms, dance underwent a minor revolution in the 1960s – much of it taking place at a church in New York’s Greenwich Village. In 1962, ballet was beginning to lose its stranglehold on the genre as modern dance found its feet. But for some artists, it didn’t go far enough. Seen as the birthplace of post-modern dance, Judson Memorial Church was home to a collective of choreographers, musicians and visual artists who thought as far outside the box as possible.

And if Judson was the birthplace, then Yvonne Rainer was one of its mothers. Along with other celebrated dancer/choreographers such as Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs and Deborah Hay, Rainer developed a whole new way of looking at dance.

What was viewed as radical in the early 60s, however, is almost commonplace today – which makes the ‘career survey’ at Glasgow’s Tramway all the more fascinating. Viewed through a 21st-century lens, how will Rainer’s work be perceived by a modern audience?

Comprising 22 works spanning four decades, Yvonne Rainer: Dance and Film will capture not only what Rainer achieved in those pivotal early days, but how she has matured as an artist. Over six days, we’ll see seven feature films, an evening of shorts, two pieces of live dance, and a lecture and book event.

Despite her achievements as a choreographer, Rainer turned her back on dance in 1975 and immersed herself in film, giving voice to lesbian relationships, breast cancer and the menopause, and exploring the ramifications of terrorism. Did she feel a responsibility to tackle such under-explored subjects? ‘The “unspoken” has certainly been one of the many challenges,’ says Rainer. ‘Not only for me but a whole generation that matured in the 60s and 70s in a climate of protest to war, sexism, racism and class inequities.’

After devoting a quarter of a century to film, Rainer was coaxed back to dance by none other than Mikhail Baryshnikov. He commissioned Rainer to create a work for his White Oak Project (a true highlight of the 2001 Edinburgh International Festival) and she has created several new works since – two of which will be presented at Tramway.

‘Returning to dance was a big relief,’ says Rainer. ‘It’s my first love. I’m a technophobe, never at ease with the equipment and hierarchies and technical dictates of feature film production. Working with dancers offers immediate gratification and clarity, without the frustrating negotiations of the apparatus and post-production crises.’

One of the most exciting aspects of the Tramway line-up is a live performance of Trio A, Rainer’s signature work created in 1966. It features key aspects of her style – most notably no eye contact with the audience and ‘an aversion to spectacular displays of technique’ — and will be danced by Rainer herself at the age of 75.

Having trained with Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham, Rainer entered the dance world with great capability – something which has changed and adapted over the years. ‘My recent dances have been the result of looking for material outside of the invention potential of my ageing body,’ she says. ‘In short, my resources are quite different from those I started out with.’

Yvonne Rainer: Dance and Film, Tramway, Glasgow, Tue 5-Sun 10 Oct.

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