BWW Review: YVONNE RAINER Recites The News in The Concept of Dust: Continuous Project-Altered Annually
Does the idea of listening to Yvonne Rainer read excerpts from news articles while six nominally enthusiastic dancers of a certain age perform movement patterns mixed in with jazz phrases appeal to you? Then you would have loved being at The Kitchen on June 3rd, 2016 for American Dance Institute's presentation of Ms. Rainer's "The Concept of Dust: Continuous Project-Altered Annually". This iteration of "Dust" - a self described ongoing work-in-progress which premiered at The Museum of Modern Art in 2015 - opened with Ms. Rainer delivering bad news to the audience while five of her dancers stood in the background with the bearing of discomfort. The bad news: Pat Catterson died. Immediately following this upsetting announcement we heard Ms. Catterson come running into the theatre as she screeched, "What the F#CK, Yvonne?! Are you trying to get rid of me?!". In response, her fellow dancers fled the theatre screaming as if they'd just seen a zombie.
Ms. Ranier: "What's eating them?"
Ms. Catterson: "Beats me."
Ms. Rainer: "Well Pat... Looks like you have the place to yourself."
The entire exchange was either darkly comedic in an offhand sort of way or in extremely poor taste. I found myself chuckling, though much of the audience around me stated aloud, "That was not funny". Without losing a beat, Ms. Catterson launched into a light soft-shoe while reciting an excerpt from Joan Acocella's thoughts on tap dancing - "Up From The Hold", The New Yorker; 11/30/2015. As delivered by Ms. Catterson in a deliberate "one-and-a-two" patter, said recitation - which came from a review of Brian Seibert's recent book "What The Eye Hears: A History of Tap Dancing" - was deprived entirely of power and context. Even the final line of this speech - which spoke to the genesis of tap through ship bound African slaves who performed as an orchestrated means of exercise - lost all meaning in this sing-song routine. And that was "Dust": an evening of affectations that carried zero effect.
This was never more apparent than during a reading of The San Francisco Chronicle's coverage of Isadora Duncan's "Revolutionary". In this section, as in all sections, we watched a dancer mark movement without any of the glamour or intensity of the original conveyor. It was akin to observing a washed out photocopy of a washed out photocopy. Whether the reference was to Michael Jackson's "Beat It" or to the transforming shapes of Pilobolus, the dancers never mustered more than a casual investment in what they were doing. This was purposeful and appropriate to the manner in which speeches were read; the blasé cadence of a newscaster. In spite of the fact that nothing seemed to matter, the evening did not bore. I attribute this to sequencing. On first glance, everything seemed to occur randomly. After six minutes a pattern appeared: unison dancing interspersed with simultaneous solo dancing in a revolving canon while Ms. Rainer read a speech or chased down a dancer to read in her stead. Then "5-6-7-8" would be uttered by one of the performers, triggering a new or repeated movement phrase accompanied to the strains of another speech.
Were the rendering any less innocuous, the effect might have been offensive. But then when everything is delivered in an affectedly un-nuanced manner - even stories of racial injustice - that potential for offense comes to life. Case in point: the speech about the African American man who was arrested without cause and held at Riker's Island for many months while he awaited his trial date, only to have all charges dismissed. During his incarceration, this man lost his job, his social standing, and was grievously injured. This could have been a reference to Kalief Browder or to any other African American man whose name has appeared in print this past year, but in "Dust" - which started to feel like a dance version of "Spoon River Anthology" melded with "Our Town" starring Ms. Rainer as The Stage Manager, though without any affection for its characters - none of this mattered. Black Lives did not matter; Isadora Duncan didn't matter; excavated skulls of ancient hedgehogs didn't matter; David Thomson - lifted into the air by his fellow dancers as if he were Superman and then lowered head first onto a pillow, followed by the entire cast assuming positions of sleep - did not matter. "Dust" was a recitation of things that happened, while other things that may or may not have been related unfolded, with the conveyance that none of it mattered.
The evening ended with Ms. Rainer reciting, "I've been to hell and back and let me tell you, it was wonderful", after which there was a ten second fade to black out. When the lights came back up it was unclear that the performance was over until the cast bowed. Perhaps that was the point: stuff happens, people read or dance about it, and then we all clap for it upon being prompted.
Photo Credit: Paula Court