Despite my delight at continuing to live in Berlin, I deeply regret not being able to attend an upcoming event November 10-15 at the Yale Rep– and I am pleased to see the theatre expanding the frame of its repetoire by running a series on dance and international performance series– a dance piece, lecture series, and workshop by and about Yvonne Rainer. I have been continuously astonished by Rainer’s ability to idiosyncratically reinvigorate her artistic idiom since the inception of her seminal dance works in the 1960s. Indeed, even though her ensuing career as a filmmaker has received exhaustive attention as principle works of feminist cinema, there seems to be a resurgeant wave of interest in her choreography, which has culminated in an in-depth monography by Harvard professor Carrie Lambert-Beatty, published this October by MIT Press.
A few noteworthy points:
1) Archival Depth.
Lambert-Beatty appeared to have been a curator at the Whitney before pursuing an academic degree, and her long-term committment to Rainer’s oeuvre is evident. The book is replete with her archival discoveries and close contact with Rainer– this is a rare level of research in a work devoted to a living artist.
2) Disciplinary Difference.
Lambert-Beatty is not a scholar from Theatre, Dance, or Performance Studies, but rather trained as an art historian, and is associated with the journal October. Is her work evidence of growing interest in performance– or at least some aspect thereof– in other disciplinary areas? I’m not sure, but it’s nonetheless a welcome sign– finding such interdisciplinary points of confluence is crucial task for the development of theatrical scholarship.
Other such scholars include Carrie Noland (art historian, UC Irvine, currently working on Merce Cunningham), Jonathan Monroe (contemporary poetry and poetics, Cornell, working on Cecilia Vicuna), or Douglas Crimp (artist historian, Rochester, publication in Grey Room on Rainer).
3) Theoretical Advancement.
Being Watched also significantly shifts the received interpretative tradition of dance scholarship in a way that departs from both Sally Banes’ indispensible canonical work, as well as critics who have taken issue with Banes since the publication of Terpsichore in Sneakers or Democracy’s Body, such as Susan Manning, Mark Franko, or most recently, Ramsay Burt. The crux of this interpretative difference consists in Lambert-Beatty’s theoretically informed approach, which investigates Rainer’s choreography vis-a-vis the photograph as a temporally material medium.
4) New Work Not Addressed.
Much to my surprise, Lambert-Beatty does not address Rainer’s recent return to choreography in her last two major works, RoS Indexical and AG Indexical, With a Little Help from H.M.. One can only assume that the publication process foreclosed the possibility of addressing these works, which is especially unfortunate given the lack of critical response to Rainer’s new choreography. These pieces have been sufficiently performed in major venues– Documenta 12 in Kassel, PSi 13 in New York, the Tanzquartier Wien, and of course, now at Yale– and it’s not without a certain irony that my own travel between New York and Germany has perfectly mismatched Rainer’s performances.
How is it that Yvonne Rainer doesn’t have a website? (Everyone has a website– even me…)
A few other web-based Rainer resources:
Three of her films are available online, hosted by the superb website, Ubuweb.
Sally Banes’ 1980 film of Trio A on Youtube
A free preview of Rainer’s early video works, which have been recently released by Video Data Bank. I should add that one of the sections of Being Watched that I found most useful was Lambert-Beatty’s chapter on these video works, first published as “Other Solutions” in Art Journal (Fall 2004).
I also stumbled across an unlikely video of Carrie Lambert-Beatty teaching— it’s a rare treat to see other scholars in a pedagogic context.