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Yvonne Rainer papers, 1871-2013 (bulk 1959-2013)

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Rainer (Yvonne) Papers

Biographical / Historical Note

Choreographer, dancer, filmmaker and writer, Yvonne Rainer is celebrated as a pioneer of postmodern dance. Her often experimental and challenging work, continuously produced for more than forty years, has been widely influential. Rainer was born in San Francisco in 1934. In 1956 she moved to New York with painter Al Held to study acting, but the following year began studying dance instead.

Rainer's early dance study was comprehensive. From 1957 to 1959 she studied modern dance with Edith Stephen, Afro-Cuban dance with Emile Faustin and Syvilla Fort, and "body work" with Allan Wayne. She also took lessons at the Martha Graham school for one year, and at Ballet Arts. In 1960 Rainer attended Ann Halprin's summer workshop in California; studied composition with Robert Dunn, a composer and friend of John Cage; studied with James Waring; and began eight years of study with Merce Cuningham. She was performing by 1960, began to present her own choreography in 1961, was a founding member of the Judson Dance Theater in 1962, and by 1965 had established herself as an influential dancer and choreographer. She left dance for filmmaking in 1975, and returned to dance in 2000.

Rainer choreographed Three Satie Spoons in Dunn's workshop, and performed it and The Bells in 1961 at the Living Theater. In 1962, she and other members of Dunn's workshop formed the Judson Dance Theater collective, which is widely viewed as the foundation of postmodern dance. Artists in other media also participated as dancers in the Judson Theater performances, including visual artists Robert Rauschenberg, Red Grooms, Robert Morris, and Al Hansen. Rainer was active in the Judson Dance Theater through 1966. She also formed her own company briefly and participated in the Grand Union dance collective.

Between 1962 and 1975, Rainer presented her choreography throughout the United States and Europe. During this time she choreographed over 40 works. Rainer's innovative work broke with dance tradition by incorporating ordinary, everyday movements. Critics often situate Rainer's work from the 1960s within the context of Minimalism, Fluxus, and performance or event art. Rainer articulated her approach to dance in her 1965 "No Manifesto": "No to spectacle no to virtuosity no to transformations and magic and make believe no to glamour and transcendency of the star image no to the heroic no to the anti-heroic no to trash imagery no to involvement of performer or spectator no to style no to camp no to seduction of spectator by the wiles of the performer no to eccentricity no to moving or being moved." However, Rainer did not conceive of her choreography as purely anti-metaphorical, stating in an interview that, "as a dancer I knew it was impossible: the body speaks no matter how you try to suppress it." ( Art in America, July 1977). Trio A, part of The Mind is a Muscle, is perhaps Rainer's best-known work, and it has been performed by many other dancers since its creation.

Rainer began working in film in the mid-1960s, completing five films between 1966 and 1969. In 1968 she began to incorporate visual materials, including film clips and slides of text and images, into her performances. From 1970 to 1974, her work in performance and film overlapped. In 1975 she made a full transition to filmmaking and by 1996 had made seven feature-length films.

Rainer's films address a range of issues, including sexuality, domestic and sexual conflict, U.S. imperialism, social privilege, gender inequality, disease and aging, as well as everyday activity. The films also contain autobiographical material. Her earliest three films are non-narrative, mixed media pieces about dance and performance that employ the collage methods of her live performances. They combine reality and fiction, sound and visual elements to address social and political concerns. Rainer's latest feature film, MURDER and murder, featuring a lesbian couple as the main characters, has a more traditional narrative structure.

Rainer returned to dance in 2000 to choreograph work for the White Oak Dance Project, including the piece, After Many a Summer Dies the Swan, and a 2006 work based on Balanchine's AGON, presented at Dance Theater Workshop. In 2002 she also made the video, After Many a Summer Dies the Swan: Hybrid.

Rainer has published articles about her work and artistic and theoretical concerns throughout her career. Her books include Yvonne Rainer: Work 1961-73 (l974), The Films of Yvonne Rainer, a collection of her film scripts (1989), A Woman Who...: Essays, Interviews, Scripts (1999), and Feelings are a Fact of Life (2006).

Rainer has received numerous awards and fellowships, including two Guggenheim Fellowships (1969, 1988), three Rockefeller Fellowships (1988, 1990, 1996), a MacArthur Fellowship (1990-1995), and a Wexner Prize (1995), as well as four Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degrees.

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