I have just had the fortunate experience of performing in Andrea Bozic's After Trio A as part of the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival in Vancouver, BC, Canada. This was truly a once- in-a lifetime experience and in keeping with the work I am not being unnecessarily spectacular. The premise is that two dancers learn Yvonne Rainer's Trio A live in front of an audience. As the film of Rainer's original work is only about 6 minutes Andrea Bozic had dissected the choreography into three two minute loops. One loop would be played each night to allow for us as performers to genuinely learn a 2 minute segment. First, Performer 1 (me) would learn/ dance the work displayed on a TV monitor (monitor is out of view of the audience) then the same footage is also displayed on a bigger screen (in view of the audience). Performer 2 (Anne Cooper) would learn from me live or from a live recording of my first attempt whereby I was watching the small hidden monitor. This small monitor is also out of (Anne's) Performer 2's view. The audience would watch us learn the choreography (by repetition of the loop), forget the moves, remember the moves, guess the sequence, and mimic each other's memory of this two minute segment. We as performers were to stick to the task and not 'perform' for the audience. Each of the three nights we received a new portion of the choreography - so we didn't know what we would be doing- this kept us authentically tied to the task of learning it for the first time each night. The work lasts approximately 50 minutes.
As Andrea Bozic states, her premise is to offer a dialogue with the original material, not a reconstruction. I can tell you honestly that if it was supposed to be a reconstruction then I would not have been chosen to dance this work. It does make sense that I was chosen though because of my obsession with dance as an intellectual source as well as an emotional one. Thinking, emotions, physicality , behaviour, expression are all connected and I dance the same way. I do not deny one part of me for the other as a dancer. This process appealed to me on so many levels and primarily because I was asked to engage with all of these parts of myself in rehearsal and in performance.
First Anne Cooper and I were asked to read material around Yvonne Rainer's broader work including the famous No Manifesto and the Mind is a Muscle, of which Trio A was a part and then specifically around this work, including Rainer's re-evaluation of her own manifesto and then Andrea's interpretation of that dance-famous text. We were able to hold a skype conversation with Andrea Bozic before she arrived here from Amsterdam during which we discussed the theoretical, philosophical and pragmatic concerns around the process. So when Andrea arrived with her incredible team (Visual artist- Julia Willms and Sound artiist-Robert Pravda who joined us on stage) we were able to throw ourselves into the physical structure of the work.
How did we rehearse a piece like this then? This was wonderfully prepared for us. Andrea arrived with the work storyboarded - all of our entrances and exits , loops and points of focus (gaze) mapped out. The only variable then was the content- that which we would be learning. So for rehearsals Andrea had prepared choreography of her own that was based on the principles of Rainer's original Trio A. This meant we could practice the timing sensations of a 2 min loop with all of the surrounding theatrical elements while maintaining an authentic learning experience each and every time. Anne and I rehearsed in both roles - Performer 1 and Performer 2 and we settled on the roles in which we felt most comfortable. Andrea chose based on the order that met her choreographic vision most closely. My experience as Performer 2 was unstable- I giggled a lot as it was thrilling and confusing to pick up the choreography through Anne's body. As Performer 1 is learning directly and immediately from the source there is more focus in that role. Performer 2 has to determine the choreography by osmosis almost - guessing the correct directions and nuances through the live body of another. Performer 1 has to as much as possible glean the accurate information form the video source- and so the two experiences are radically different. Anne and I are both experienced improvisers but this particular work required us to deny our desires to interpret material. This was not allowed. "No to Interpretation". So the role of Performer 2 did not offer me enough structure to prevent me interpreting. I opted for control and repetition, also wanting to be closer to the source. And I got to wear the sparkly green top with my tap shoes as Performer 1 - maybe that was the real reason...
I am primarily a choreographer these days, so this was so much fun to be back on the stage especially for such a unique and intense process. Being on the inside of a work is a very different experience. It;s hard to say how. As you can't really ever be both inside and outside of the same work it does not seem important to articulate the difference really- just to know that it is different is powerful enough. What I do think is important is that experiencing the "other' role can be hugely beneficial. I became hyper-aware of how the see-er communicated information to me, how I received it -based on my experience inside the work, and how much repetition I can handle as a dancer. Keep it coming- keep telling me - keep feeding me your priorities and I will work my ass off to make those things happen. Strict guidelines, clear goals, eye on detail, discussions about why and what is expected, responses to what is working and what is not, iteration of key concerns, questions, repetition of the answers, answering myself with confidence in the work. The voice of the choreographer in my head as a support out there as I played out the rules of the game made it exciting, made it a team effort and put the choreographer's vision smack bang centre stage. There was a wonderful balance of information and space. I always felt that the task was conceptually clear even if it was humanly impossible to achieve. The fun is in trying it… and because it was always clear as to what the choreographer was interested in there was never a confusion - just complexity , intensity and challenge, which made it more fun. As a choreographer I am now more aware of how far I can push my own perspective. An important stage in my career- especially pertinent as I am now also a co-artistic director of a new dance and music company called Restless Productions.
So what is the significance of Yvonne Rainer and what was so intriguing about it for me?
Yvonne Rainer is a pioneer of post modern dance - her language is quite pedestrian and idiosyncratic but also non-spectacular and un-presentational. Some have argued that it is boring. I can understand this as a viewer but not as a mover. Andrea made sure the performance was not boring by adding projections, bells, a loud speaker dropping, and costume, and apparently our lack of performing was also deeply engaging for the audience. All part of Bozic's plan. There is too much going in the movement for it to feel boring. Here I will sound like a dance geek- the physical nuances require specific weight and transition somewhat illogically (for me) to the next move so there is a constant complexity in its seeming simplicity that for a dancer is a skill to master. The "No Manifesto" mentions No to Style. Rainer's work is full of style- as a diversely trained dancer the moves remind me of "in the style of " Graham or Jazz even Fosse-ish in places, beginnings of release etc, but if you feel those places in your body you are probably doing Rainer wrong for even though they speak to these styles- she has removed the initiations and punctuations- she has removed the style from these shapes and motions. So to see it as a dancer is one thing to do it as a dancer is quite another. And to see it might be slightly boring to our sophisticated and fast eyes- it is 50yrs old- but to do it is for certain not boring - or rather to attempt to do it correctly is far too complex to be boring.
But still the significance of this work is not in the reconstructing- for me it is in precisiely what Andrea Bozic has chosen to do with this- to be in dialogue with it. Rainer's work is a legacy but to me its value is not preservation as an end-to-itself but in how this period of history relates to our present and how the two perspectives morph/ collide/ influence each other to create a vision for a future of dance that does not recreate old themes but invents new ones. I am not talking about universal themes of emotion, nature, communication, aesthetic, but of how these relate to the people of our time- as an act of discovery. How does history speak to us? How do we respectfully and contemporaneously respond? We can mis-read history, mis-quote and mis-understand what has gone before and we can mis-dance it too! Take it from me I know- I just did! And It was great fun.