The bad news is that we are in a Nixon revival, re-living the 1970s with continuous protests against a bad president leading us in the wrong direction. The good news is that New York is celebrating the 1970s art forms — minimalist music and post-modern dance. If you follow this blog, you know that The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts has been working with David Gordon, acquiring his archives as a dancer, choreographer and director with public programs and an exhibition, Archivography – under construction, which will be on view through April 6, 2017. I strongly recommend a visit or two since it is a dense (in the best sense), media-packed exhibition. The “under construction” means that elements come and go — the chair, for one thing,
David Gordon has also shown up recently in a key image by Peter Moore used to publicize Stephen Petronio’s season at the Joyce Theater, on through Sunday. In recent seasons, Petronio has added revivals of works by major postmodern choreographers in what he calls the Bloodlines Project. This season, it included works by Yvonne Rainer and Steve Paxton, founding members of the Judson Dance Theater and Grand Union, and California-based Anna Halprin. Rainer, Halprin and Simone Forti are the subjects of Radical Bodies, an exhibition and project of the University of California at Santa Barbara and The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. It can be seen there now and in New York from May 24 to September 16, 2017.
The Rainer works are the task dance Diagonals (1963), Chair-Pillow (1969), and the 1970 version of Trio A, named Trio A With Flags. Gordon was also a founding member of Judson and Grand Union, and can be seen in the 1970 Moore photograph of Rainer’s Trio A with Flags. Trio A The Mind is a Muscle has become the best known work from the Judson era due to reconstructions and films. It can be performed by any number of dancers and requires balance, good timing and an excellent memory for seemingly unrelated movements. Most versions of Trio A, in fact, most post-modern repertory, were performed in the current version of t-shirts and loose leggings. Sally Banes’ masterful book on the Judson Group is appropriately titled Terpsichore with Sneakers. Trio A with Flags is performed nude with American flags tied like halter bathing suits, hanging vertically. The Petronio dancers, in fact, went on stage, tied their flags and un-dressed under them. It is less of a political statement now, since laws and an electronic culture have de-fetishized the fabric flag. Without the cultural commitment that a flag permanently equals faithful patriotism, the gesture becomes less about challenge to the establishment and more about how movement changes compared to the vertical lines (from the stripes).
The Peter Moore photograph from 1970 is all context. You can see it in The New Yorker with Joan Acocella’s preview article in the March 27 issue. Moore saw a lot of dance and knew how to photograph it. He also really knew and understood the space. Judson was the center of post-modern dance and a working church, but it was also the center for anti-war and social activism for NY. So, there are posters and banners manipulating American flag images all over the back wall. Moore shows David Gordon in mid-jump with arms extended so that the flag becomes a flying bib. The extraordinary photo shows a lot of floor and is cropped so that the jump looks close to the ground – a rejection of dance photography’s usual practice. You can see legs and an arm behind Gordon’s flag and Yvonne Rainer and her flag can be seen faintly at the back.
The photographs by Sarah Silver in the Joyce program and by Andrea Mohin in today’s New York Times (March 30, 1917, on page C1) are tightly focused on the dancers and clearly show the verticality of the flags and the control and beauty of the dancing bodies. De-contextualized dancers with beautifully trained and articulated bodies are how we see dance these days, especially post-modern dance. Exhibitions provide context, so please try to attend the David Gordon show before April 6 and Radical Bodies in California this Spring or in New York this summer.
A video installation of SlowDancing/Trio A by David Michalek and Yvonne Rainer will be on view at Danspace in late June. Go to danspaceproject.org for the schedule.