yvonne rainer

Falling in love with another art form, Yvonne Rainer and my divorce from painting

Originally published by Damce UK , the then advocacy body for dance, in 2010 

Part one:

Throughout December The British Film Institute is showing Yvonne Rainer’s feature films alongside an exhibition of her work and inspirations, what better time to talk about her.

As an artist with integrity, you have to be prepared to follow your line of enquiry to the end wherever it may take you. This very situation stared me in the face three years ago, and it was heartbreaking to realise that my love affair with painting was over. After basing my identity, and whole world around striving to be the next great painter, I had fallen for another art form – dance. What is more I wasn’t trained in it and I was 25. However, as anyone who has fallen out of love will know, you just can’t ignore that pull of something that makes you feel life is meaningful again, offering you possibility to move forwards. So in 2008 I shut the studio door, leotard in hand and ran away with dance.

Yvonne Rainer similarly moved from dance to film. She was co-founder of The Judson Church during 1960’s in New York, where she first became intrigued by the relationship between the performer and audience, the political and the private in everyday life. In the 1960’s she rocked the conventions of the dance world, introducing pedestrian movement and using people as props. Her works were task based and looked to the uneducated eye, like someone doing Ballet badly.

In 1975 she left dance for film altogether, after a several yearlong affair, during which she had merged the two. Key works from this period, AG Indexical with a Little Help from HM and RoS Indexical are on show at the British Film Institute currently alongside seven of Rainer’s feature films. RoS Indexical is her take on The Rite of Spring, and AG Indexical with a Little Help from HM is her take on Balanchine’s Agon.

Her films reflect her radical and outspoken nature. They explore alternatives to the conventions of plot and character development and are full of social contradictions: gender, feminism, racism, political violence, housing, sexual identity, inequality, ageing and disease. 

Rainer reacted against the drama of Martha Graham and found the alternative Minimalist approach that was available at the time just didn’t fit her media (the body).

She found that anywhere there were people, there were hierarchies, there was empathy and there was humanness. She saw the truth of the situation and the conflicts between the thinking of the great men that surrounded her. And in that place of contradiction, duality and politics, she chose to situate her work for most of her career.

She did in fact, free dance as far as it could be freed. It raised the question, still relevant today, that an art form should be valued for more than it’s wow factor.