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Yvonne Rainer's "AG Indexical, with a Little Help from H.M&qu

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For her second work in 30 years, Yvonne Rainer added her personal touch on Balanchine's Agon. I absolutely loved it, but before I get into my opinion, here are some links for other perspectives:

danceviewtimes review (thanks, kfw!)

Movement Research interviews Yvonne Rainer

Village Voice review by Deborah Jowitt

NYTimes review by John Rockwell

The piece that give the best sense of Rainer's piece, I think, was the Times preview, but it's no longer on the website. I could cut and paste it from Lexus Nexus, but I imagine that violates copyright restrictions. Go to the library. There was also something in the April Dance Magazine, I believe.

I thought Rainer's Agon was brilliant. For starters, it was very, very funny-- not just in a look-at-the-crazy-things-I-can-get-away-with-in-a-theater way that some other downtown works are "funny." Instead of feeling like the choreographer was putting cheap "laugh here" signs in the work, AG was genuinely hilarious; I was trying hard not to laugh.

The work went beyond parody; it was smart and rigorous. I guess if you really had no idea what you were getting into, you would call it irreverent, but I thought it was very respectful. Rainer clearly admires Balanchine and Stravinsky's work, showing off its brilliance even as she makes light of it. In fact, I don't think she was making fun of Agon at all. It was more like she said, hey, look at all the amazing stuff to work with here! I could turn it inside out, set it with non-ballet dancers, even put a section to the Pink Panther song, and it would still look awesome!

What's amazing is that shining through all the distortion, there's a whole lot of Agon still there. The pas de deux, in which ballerina Emily Coates is partnered by the three older, downtown, female choreographers, really is recognizably Balanchine the whole way. Her distortions were so witty! For example, instead of having the partner drop dramatically from a lunge to the floor, Coates just switches partners (one was lunging, the other takes her hand only after she is on her back). It's much less difficult technically, but the spirit of suspense and virtuosity is still there-- perhaps after her legacy of being anti-virtuosity, Rainer is now making her commentary from the other side: even easy movement is virtuosity! Either way, it nudges the audience to consider "ordinary" movement and "dance" movement from a new perspective. And it's a tight little piece.

Which I guess is what I was trying to say when I said AG was smart and rigorous. It is a fine (and fun) work of art, with legitimate themes and nuanced commentary on ballet, Balanchine, Rainer's own previous work, and who knows what else. I know about the Judson Dance Theater and Grand Union only from books, and judging from their legacy as it exists today (i.e., most of the work at Dance Theater Workshop, see this thread), I was beginning to wonder if the postmodernists had pioneered any worthwhile territory. But AG revealed Rainer as a true, brilliant artist, with a sharp intellect. Her work has purpose beyond look-at-me gimmicks. And, like any great artist, she continues to challenge herself and grow. Each of her dances from the Judson era were intent investigations; the pedestrian-movement, everyday-body, text-incorporating, music-ignoring formulas weren't formulaic then, they were the means to the end. And the end, or goal, was to provoke new ideas about art, bodies, states of being the way we see each other, etc, not to be "sentimental" or "seduce the audience" to passive appreciation of something traditionally beautiful (like, say, ballet).

Then, feeling constrained by the medium, Rainer moved into experimental film and continued her investigations there. Now that she is back (and I think, from one of the interviews, she did imply that she would be making more dances), she brings the intellectual rigor and all her artistic gifts to this work which uses pointe shoes and dances to the music, both of which would have seemed unthinkable to Rainer in the 70s. And she outshined everything else I've seen there this season! It was one of the most exciting dance evenings I've ever seen!

As an aside, does anyone know if she needed the Balanchine Trust's approval for this project? She thanks them for the use of the video footage in the program, but I don't remember any notes about the steps themselves.

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