is an American
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...
Dance is an art form that generally refers to movement of the body, usually rhythmic and to music, used as a form of expression, social interaction or presented in a spiritual or performance setting....
Choreography is the art of designing sequences of movements in which motion, form, or both are specified. Choreography may also refer to the design itself, which is sometimes expressed by means of dance notation. The word choreography literally means "dance-writing" from the Greek words "χορεία" ...
A film director is a person who directs the actors and film crew in filmmaking. They control a film's artistic and dramatic nathan roach, while guiding the technical crew and actors.-Responsibilities:...
, whose work in these disciplines is frequently challenging and experimental. Her work is classified as minimalist art.
Rainer was born in the Richmond district of San Francisco to parents, Joseph and Jeanette, who considered themselves radicals. As a child, she was sent to live at Sunnyside, a boarding institution in Palo Alto, with her older brother Ivan for several years. Her parents visited them each Sunday in their 1938 Pontiac Sedan. By 1941, she moved back with her parents at the age of seven to a new house in the Sunset that she describes as "an unfamiliar neighborhood of white protestant working class families." From the age of twelve, she had been "exposed to the heady commingling of poets, painters, writers, and Italian anarchists." She went to Lowell High
Lowell High School may refer to:*Lowell High School *Lowell High School *Lowell High School *Lowell High School *Lowell High School...
, and after graduation, she attended San Francisco Junior College for a year, then Berkeley for a week. She dropped out of college by the end of September 1952.
At a very young age, her father introduced her to films, while her mother introduced her to ballet
Ballet is a type of performance dance, that originated in the Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th century, and which was further developed in France and Russia as a concert dance form. The early portions preceded the invention of the proscenium stage and were presented in large chambers with...
. While she was still at Sunnyside, her mother enrolled her in dance classes. Rainer writes,
I am five or six when my mother enrolls me in a dance school a few blocks from Sunnyside. After being taken to the school several times, I am expected to walk there by myself once a week...All the little girls are able to touch the backs of their heads with their toes. It seems to me that I am the only one who can't.
Rainer found herself hanging out at the Cellar
the cellar is the marketing theme or concept for the group of departments that are commonly located on the first floor below ground level at the larger Macy's department store locations. Although every Macy's has such a department, only the larger flagships actually have basement-level space...
around 1955, where she would listen to poets accompanied by cool jazz
Cool is a style of modern jazz music that arose following the Second World War. It is characterized by its relaxed tempos and lighter tone, in contrast to the bebop style that preceded it...
. It was here that she met Al Held
Al Held was an American Abstract expressionist painter. He was particularly well known for his large scale Hard-edge paintings.-Background and education:...
, a painter. He introduced her to various artists whom were natives of New York. It was in August of 1956, that she followed Al to New York at the age of twenty-two.
I remember walking down 5th Avenue past Madison Square Park, overwhelmed by an ineffable sense of infinite possibility. Someone else might have described it as a 'conquer-the-world' kind of feeling. For me it was simply pure open-minded excitement. Though I had no idea what the future held, it was already signaling with open arms.
It was Dolly Casella, a close friend, who introduced Rainer to the dance classes of Edith Stephen, a modern dancer. She went to her first adult dance class with Stephen who told her that she was not very "turned out." Rainer admits, "What she didn't say was something that I would gradually recognize in the next couple of years, that my lack of turn-out and limberness coupled with a long back and short legs would reduce my chances of performing with any established dance company." In 1959, she began studying at the Martha Graham School
Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance is located in New York City and is the headquarter to the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance and the Martha Graham Dance Company, which is the oldest continually performing dance company in the world....
and later with James Waring
James Waring was a dancer, choreographer, costume designer and theatrical director based in New York City in the 1940s through the 1970s. He was a prolific choreographer as well as a dedicated teacher who selflessly helped his students and proteges to advance their careers, while maintaining a...
and Merce Cunningham
Mercier "Merce" Philip Cunningham was an American dancer and choreographer who was at the forefront of the American avant-garde for more than 50 years. Throughout much of his life, Cunningham was considered one of the greatest creative forces in American dance...
Dance and choreographic work
Rainer was one of the organizers of the Judson Dance Theater
Judson Dance Theater was an informal group of dancers who performed at the Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village, Manhattan New York City between 1962 and 1964. It grew out of a dance composition class taught by Robert Dunn, a musician who had studied with John Cage...
, a focal point for vanguard activity in the dance world throughout the 1960s, and she formed her own company for a brief time after the Judson performances ended. Rainer is noted for an approach to dance that treats the body more as the source of an infinite variety of movements than as the purveyor of emotion or drama. Many of the elements she employed—such as repetition, patterning, tasks, and games—later became standard features of modern dance.
In her early dances, Rainer focused on sounds and movements, and often juxtaposed the two in arbitrary combinations. Somewhat inspired by the chance tactics favored by Cunningham, Rainer’s choreography was a combination of classical dance steps contrasted with everyday, pedestrian movement. She used a great deal of repetition, and employed narrative and verbal noises (including wails, grunts, mumbles and shrieks, etc.) within the body of her dances.
(1962) was a combination of movement and narrative, and featured the repetition of simple movements while Rainer recited a poetic autobiography. One characteristic of Rainer’s early choreography was her fascination with using non-dancer performers. We Shall Run
(1963) was such a piece, featuring twelve people clad in street clothes running around the stage for seven minutes creating various floor patterns. Some of the performers were dancers while others were not.
A turning point in Rainer’s choreography came in 1964, when, in an effort to strip movements of their expressive qualities, she turned to game structures to create works. All movement aimed to be direct, functional, and to avoid stylization. In so doing, she aimed to remove the drama from the dance movement, and to question the role of entertainment in dance. Throughout this stage of her choreography she worked towards movement becoming something of an object, to be examined without any psychological, social or formal motives. She opted for neutrality in her dances, presenting the objective presence of the human body and its movements, and refused to project a persona or create a narrative within her dances. In 1965, as a reaction to many of the previously stated feelings, Rainer created her "No Manifesto," which was a strategy formulated to demystify dance:
This exploration in reducing dance to the essentials climaxed with one of Rainer’s most famous pieces, Trio A
(1966), initially part of a larger work entitled The Mind Is a Muscle
. Something of a paradigmatic statement that questioned the aesthetic goals of postmodern dance, Trio A
was a short dance that consisted of one long phrase. In Trio A
, Rainer intended to remove objects from the dance while simultaneously retaining a workmanlike approach of task-based performance. Not simple but certainly not fancy, it was a demanding piece of work, both to watch and to perform. She explored such dynamics as repetition, the distribution of energy, and phrasing. The movement consisted of task-oriented actions, emphasizing neutral performance and featuring no interaction with the audience. The dancer was to never make eye contact with her observers, and in the case that the movement required the dancer to face the audience, the eyes were to be averted from the audience or the head was to be involved in movement. As the Museum of Modern Art
The Museum of Modern Art is an art museum in Midtown Manhattan in New York City, on 53rd Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. It has been important in developing and collecting modernist art, and is often identified as the most influential museum of modern art in the world...
describes it: "It freed the dancer's body from the rigid fragmentation and artificiality of choreographed movement."The first time the piece was performed it was entitled The Mind is a Muscle, Part 1
, and was performed by a set of three simultaneous solos by Rainer, Steve Paxton
Steve Paxton is an experimental dancer and choreographer. His early background was in gymnastics while his later training included three years with Merce Cunningham and a year with José Limón. As a founding member of the Judson Dance Theater, he performed works by Yvonne Rainer and Trisha Brown...
, and David Gordon. Trio A
has been widely adapted and interpreted by other choreographers.
Rainer has choreographed more than 40 concert works, including Terrain
and This Is a Woman Who…
A few of her other works include:
- Continuous Project-Altered Daily (1969) was installed at the Castelli Warehouse in Harlem. It produced "spontaneous behavior within a formal setting."
- War an antiwar dance performed by thirty people at Douglass College protesting Vietnam in 1970.
- Street Action a performance to protest the Cambodian invasion in 1970. Visually, there were three columns of people wearing black armbands while walking with their heads down.
Rainer sometimes included filmed sequences in her dances, and in the mid-1970s she began to turn her attention to film directing. Her early films do not follow narrative conventions, instead combining reality and fiction, sound and visuals, to address social and political issues. Rainer directed several experimental films about dance and performance, including Lives of Performers
(1972), Film About a Woman Who
(1974), and Kristina Talking Pictures
(1976). Her later films include The Man Who Envied Women
(1990), and MURDER and murder
(1996). MURDER and murder
, more conventional in its narrative structure, is a lesbian love story as well as a reflection on urban life and on breast cancer, and it features Rainer. Her film work has received several awards, and in 1990 she was a recipient of a MacArthur Foundation fellowship.
- Journeys From Berlin/1974 explores the ramifications of terrorism
- Kristina Talking Pictures looks at the contradictions between the private and public persona
- Lives of Performers is about a man who cannot decide between two women
- The Man Who Envied Women is a film about the breakup of a marriage
- MURDER and murder (see paragraph above)
- A Film About a Woman Who... is considered Rainer's landmark film, about a woman with sexual dissatisfaction
- Privilege a film about menopause.
Reading feminist writing and theory allowed Rainer to examine her own experience as a woman, and she was able to think of herself as a participant in culture and society. Little did Rainer realize that her prior choreography was a direct challenge of the "traditional" dance and ultimately feminist in nature. Throughout the 1980s, Rainer was celibate, and she was determined "not to enter into any more ill-fated heterosexual adventures..." She began attending Gay Pride Parades and considered herself a "political lesbian." Rainer participated in a demonstration in New York and Washington D.C. to protest the challenges to Roe v. Wade
during this same time period. At the age of 56, she overcame her fears of identifying as a lesbian by becoming intimate with Martha Gever. She says it was "euphoric." They are still together today.
Feminist Audre Lorde
Audre Lorde was a Caribbean-American writer, poet and activist.-Life:...
's famous statement posed, "You can't dismantle the master's house using the master's tools." Rainer rebutted her theory by stating, "You can, if you expose the tools."