Thursday, October 15, 2015

"Feelings Are Facts: The Life of Yvonne Rainer"

Feelings Are Facts: The Life of Yvonne Rainer
by Jack Walsh
screened at the 2015 San Francisco Dance Film Festival

I remember the first time I saw Yvonne Rainer’s Trio A. It was postmodern week of an undergraduate dance history class. The reading had included basic survey information on Judson Dance Theater – who the main participants were, when it occurred, where the performances took place and what the collective had produced. The week’s lecture touched on much of that same material and then the old movie reel version of Trio A was screened and discussed. While most of my classmates were in awe after viewing this piece of choreography, I was confused and didn’t understand it at all. Why did they love it so much? Were they just reacting to the fact we had been told it was a seminal piece of postmodern dance? Or had I missed something, something really important?

Years later and after much study, I know that I had missed something. On that day, I had a general sense of ‘the who, when, where and what’ that was Judson Dance Theater. But I did not have any of ‘the how’ nor ‘the why’. And I needed some of that context to both understand the work and appreciate its contribution.

It would have been amazing if a film like Jack Walsh’s Feelings Are Facts: The Life of Yvonne Rainer, recently screened as part of the San Francisco Dance Film Festival’s 2015 line-up, had been part of that first conversation. While it is not meant as a comprehensive history of Judson Dance Theater or postmodern dance, Feelings Are Facts provides that necessary and first-hand context to understand the postmodern period in dance history (specifically some of ‘the how’ and ‘the why’). And it does so by following the trajectory of one particular artist: Yvonne Rainer. A chronology of Rainer’s journey, the documentary combines archival documents, video footage and personal interviews. All this comes together to give a deeper insight into a creative mind and spirit; one that helped change the face of artistic form, structure, content and composition.

The timeline of the film is somewhat unconventional and non-linear, though with it being about Rainer, perhaps that is how it should be. It jumps around from era to era, and from Rainer’s professional experience to her personal life.

Walsh begins Feelings Are Facts with early footage of Rainer dancing her 1966 work, Trio A. Interspersed in these first few minutes are responses to the work from a number of dancers, choreographers, practitioners and scholars. Folks like Rainer, Steve Paxton and Wendy Perron (among others) speak about what Trio A was, what it meant and what it did for the field. After that initial introduction, Walsh heads back in time to when Rainer moved New York to become a dancer. He takes us through Rainer’s discovery of the New York arts scene to her experimentation with different dance techniques to the composition class that
Yvonne Rainer in the "Bach" section of Terrain (1963)
Yvonne Rainer, Judson Memorial Church, New York, 1963
Photo: Al Giese
birthed Judson to the heyday of the Judson Dance Theater. Walsh also references a number of amazing choreographic excerpts (some, recent reconstructions) from that rich time of dancemaking: Three Satie Spoons, Chair/Pillow, Three Seascapes. Onto the late 1960s/early 1970s and the Grand Union project. I’d only ever seen still photographs of Grand Union, so it was really something to see live video from that time. Next, Walsh tracks Rainer’s transition into film and cinema, and in the middle of Feelings Are Facts, goes back to the very beginning – Rainer’s childhood and adolescence. Then we timehop again to when Rainer returned to dance, choreography and performance. And in a lovely cadence, Feelings Are Facts concludes with a recent example of Rainer in Trio A.

Because it doesn’t follow each decade in chronological order, Feelings Are Facts feels a little like a collage, pieces of interdependent material overlaid and superimposed into a larger structure. Walsh has made a great film – educational and accessible while engaging and entertaining. And with each year’s collection of short and feature-length films (like Feelings Are Facts), the San Francisco Dance Film Festival is continuing to forge a legacy of curating excellence.

No comments: