- Yvonne Rainer born 1934
- Film, 16mm, shown as video, black and white
- Duration: 10min, 30sec
- Lent by the Tate Americas Foundation 2020
On long term loan
Trio A 1978 is a black and white film with sound by the American choreographer, writer, dancer and film-maker Yvonne Rainer. Lasting ten and a half minutes, the film depicts the artist performing her signature dance work of the same name, which she originally conceived in 1965. The piece was the culmination of several years of experimenting with what Rainer called ‘ordinary dance’ and ‘neutral doing’ using a combination of everyday and ‘found’ movements that unfold without breaks or repetition. The work, with its neutral title, was not intended to depict or narrate anything other than the movement itself. The approximately four-and-a-half-minute dance piece (its exact timing depends upon who is performing it) comprises a sequence of movements that manifest what Rainer described as an ‘even energy continuum’ and are endlessly varied but without phrasal segmentation, and so appear to be continuous in motion, without still moments of registration. The choreography persists in a perpetually unpredictable manner, deliberately refusing familiar dance patterns that result upon arcs of development and climax. The dancer refuses to make eye contact with the audience. Art historian Carrie Lambert-Beatty has described how ‘Trio A chugs along like a well-running, if slightly quirky machine. The movement itself is inventive-body parts seem to move out of sync, like separately functioning mechanism, but the dance never tries to startle the viewer with skillful tricks.’ (Carrie Lambert Beatty, ‘Moving Still: Meditating Yvonne Rainer’s Trio A’, October, vol.89, Summer 1999, pp.89–90.)
The dance sequence has served as a kind of backbone to Rainer’s dance practice since it was first performed as part of The Mind is a Muscle, Part I, at the Judson Church, New York in 1966 by Rainer, Steve Paxton and David Gordon: together, but not in unison. Trio A was included in two variations within the presentation of The Mind is a Muscle at Judson in 1968, alongside other key works of ‘ordinary dance’, including Mat, Stairs, Act 1968 and the presentation of Rainer’s short films.
Over the years Rainer reinvented the piece according to the context: variously dancing it after a period of hospitalisation as Convalescent Dance 1967; dancing it in tap shoes; and staging it with naked dancers draped with American flags, as a protest against the Vietnam War, titled Trio A with Flags in 1970. It has been performed as a solo, duet, trio and group dance, taught en masse to students on several occasions. Such was the importance of Trio A for Rainer’s own practice that she told interviewer Wendy Perron in 1981 that she practised it daily as a kind of self-test mechanism.
In line with her ambitions for democratic transmission of the piece, Rainer first taught Trio A to a non-dancer named Frances Brooks in 1968. Rainer intended the film documentation to represent the work as she conceived it because, despite having had utopian ambitions for the dance sequence’s live and democratic transmission by teaching, she found that she was highly concerned about specificity and exactness of movement, and the degradation thereof through person-to-person relay. This film recording from 1978, which was performed in Merce Cunningham’s studio, represented such precision of detail to Rainer’s satisfaction and documents her own interpretation of it. The film shows the performance twice, with the first shot showing Rainer’s entire body in the space and the second iteration focused on parts of her body so that details of the dance can be easily surveyed.
Rainer is noted for an approach to dance that treats the body more as the source of movement and as physical matter rather than as the purveyor of plot or narrative. Many of the elements she employed – such as repetition, tasks and indeterminacy – later became standard features of contemporary dance. They also resonated with the principles of minimalist sculpture. In 1965 she wrote what has become known as her ‘No Manifesto’ within an essay about dance in the Tulane Drama Review, in which she stated, ‘No to virtuosity, magic and make-believe’: a statement that has been widely cited since, more recently in a riposte by Danish contemporary dancer Mette Invgartsen who published her own ‘YES Manifesto’ in the performance magazine Fraktija in 2004.
Catherine Wood, The Mind is a Muscle, London 2007.
Carrie Lambert-Beatty, Being Watched: Yvonne Rainer and the 1960s, Cambridge, MA 2008.
Yilmaz Dwiezor, Barbara Engelbach (eds), Yvonne Rainer: Raum, Korper, Sprache / Space, Body Language, exhibitioncatalogue, Ludwig Museum, Cologne and Kunsthaus Bregenz 2012.
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