by Jacob Liberman '10 (Yale)
I remember watching a filmed performance of Yvonne Rainer’s Trio A for the first time at a screening in the Yale Film Studies Center. I was initially unsure as to whether the dance was a movement study, or a sketch of a bigger piece to come. Perhaps Rainer was simply marking the steps? Could this be a rehearsal tape? What was she doing? I later learned that Trio A was complete in the very form I saw on screen. I now look back at this reaction with the eyes of a more informed viewer, seeing Rainer’s choreographic style on high display, her movement quality developing from a deconstruction of the performer and the performance of dance, the human body being offered to the audience as an object to be seen.
My training as a musical theater performer often sparks my initial performative response to be imbued with what Professor Emily Coates has come to jokingly call "rocket power." I ached to perform Rainer’s work at top movement potential. It was not until I danced the steps myself, and heard first-hand from Yvonne Rainer about her choreography, that I truly understood the imagery, nuance, and bodily sculpture in her work. I had not been aware of Rainer’s exploration of minimalism, momentum, and perpetual motion, her abandonment of classical or neoclassical forms, or the almost spiritual qualities of the dance.
Now, I am performing Trio A. As rehearsals begin, my inner energy level is high, at a rocket-powered 10, but my outer appearance is at a smooth and even 7. The four-minute dance is to be performed with limited attention to punctuation – each movement is leading to the next in a smooth display of each choreographic idea. I plant my feet upon the sprung wooden floor, knees slightly bent, head connected to neck, supported by my spine. I take a deep breath and start my motor. My hands may seem slightly relaxed but they are, in fact, full of compressed energy. I push my arms back and forth across my torso, beginning the flow of precise movements and calculated sequence known as Trio A. I continue through the motions of Yvonne Rainer’s piece, allowing my momentum to drive my body through the dance.
I now know to save my "rocket power" for the second half of rehearsals, for Twyla Tharp’s Torelli. I have always delighted in the joy of pure, fully experienced movement, and if there is any artist within whose choreography I can experience this glee, it is that of Ms. Tharp. "I gather force and then...I explode," the choreographer exclaims in her book, The Creative Habit. It is this action of accumulation, and ultimately of breaking down and through dance forms that characterize and distinguish Tharp’s choreographic and dramaturgical style. The astonishing ferocity with which Tharp explodes the preconceived notions and historicity of the styles of theater and dance has deemed her the founder of "crossover choreography."
Rehearsing Torelli has been an absolute thrill, and the piece is an extraordinary pairing with Rainer’s style and specificity. Tharp’s piece has a unique architecture: eight movement phrases are introduced in silence by an ensemble of six dancers, which are then performed in variation by the performers. The phrase material is improvised to an eight minute-long recording of Giuseppi Torelli’s Violin Concerto Opus 8 #7 in D Minor. Tharp, in juxtaposition to Rainer, moves and grooves with full force: here, sweet shimmy-shakes and uninhibited spins are sparked by a focused attention to the plié, the limbs always using momentum and weight as the impetus for the performance. Torelli is where "rocket power" reigns.
My studies and performances of Torelli and Trio A have provided me with a unique opportunity to fully explore the work of these two drastically different choreographers. Pairing Tharp’s momentum with Rainer’s minimalism has been a powerful artistic experience. Soon I will be able to share this with all of you – I will pack up my dance bag, and, along with my fellow ensemble members in Advanced Dance Repertory, travel to Cambridge to perform in Ivy Dance Exchange. Joining us will be additional Yale students, dancers enrolled in Lacina Coulibaly’s seminar on Contemporary Dance of African Expression. To share research and creative material with students from Harvard and Brown is a first for those of us enrolled in the Dance Studies curriculum at Yale. This opportunity is a thrill for our entire ensemble, and we look forward to making the trek down to Harvard soon.
Ivy Dance Exchange will take place on Friday and Saturday, December 4 and 5, 7 p.m. at the Harvard Dance Center. Tickets and more information available here.
[Caption: Jacob Liberman '10 (Yale). Photo by Alyssa Simmons.]