PRINT December 1972

Performance, A Conversation


TRISHA BROWN: Choreographer and dancer
ROBERT DUNN: Composer, teacher, and choreographer
YVONNE RAINER: Choreographer, dancer, and film maker
DANIEL IRA SVERDLIK: Dancer, member of the company of Meredith Monk
TWYLA THARP: Choreographer and dancer

THIS TAPED DISCUSSION IS NOT so much momentous as unprecedented. The artists who gathered at my house in late September spoke as peers who have from time to time given one another the most scrupulous attention, but often at the very wide distance of their differences. Through the evening, I sensed a certain decorous tension in the air; politesse seemed to prod the conversation toward a search for common ground, rather than the more vital articulation of difference ordinarily inspired at worst by ferocity and at best by a familiar trust. And so it was in passing that the most interesting things managed to get said.

It might be called a conversation among the heirs of the Judson Dance Theater. Every participant either performed a major early work at Judson or was crucially influenced by events that occurred there. In The Rise and Fall and Rise of Modern Dance, Don McDonagh has documented how Robert Dunn, the composer, choreographer, and teacher went with Judith Dunn and his then students Yvonne Rainer and Steve Paxton to the church in search of performance space and how the new dance was born. At that time Dunn was teaching classes in Merce Cunningham’s 14th Street studio which were to be for several people in this conversation crucial to the emergence of a series of radical new styles.

But that fact should not create the delusion that this was a meeting of a coherent school or group. It is true that some of these performers remain in close contact: Trisha Brown and Yvonne Rainer have worked together as members of The Grand Union—that experiment in the extemporaneous so gently raked over the coals here. Daniel Ira Sverdlik is a chemist who joined Meredith Monk’s company in 1968. Since Monk was unable to be present, she asked him to attend and speak for her. Twyla Tharp is perhaps the single artist in the group whose performance can be described as dance and only dance, without one wince of critical doubt. All the others have at various times worked in shadow regions between the academically defined artistic disciplines, while Richard Foreman has never been involved in “dance.” He is explicitly a man of the theater, but as a playwright and director involved in artistic means unfamiliar, to say the least, to the theater we see around us, he was able to join this group of artists—from whom, as he says, he has crucially learned—without so much as a blink of interdisciplinary perplexity.

Richard Foreman: Isn’t it fair to say that most people, through no fault of their own, are improperly trained to watch certain new modes of performance? They don’t know upon which “strata” of the performance structure to concentrate. It seems to me that all of us here are working on material, rearranging it so that the resultant performance more accurately reflects not a perception of the world—but the rhythms of an ideal world of activity, remade, the better in which to do the kind of perception we each would like to be doing.

We are, then, presenting the audience with objects of a strange sort, that can only be savored if the audience is prepared to establish new perceptual habits—habits quite in conflict with the ones they have been taught to apply at classical performance in order to be rewarded with expected gratifications. In classical performance, the audience learns that if they allow attention to be led by a kind of childish, regressive desire-for-sweets, the artist will have strategically placed those sweets at just the “crucial” points in the piece where attention threatens to climax. In our work, however, what’s presented is not what’s “appealing” (the minute something is appealing it’s a reference to the past and to inherited “taste”)—but rather to what has heretofore not been organized by the mind into recognizable gestalts; everything that has heretofore “escaped notice.” And the temptation each of us fights, I think, is to become prematurely “interested” in what we uncover.

Yvonne Rainer: You’re talking about the audience, and I hardly ever think of the audience, but of what interests me.

Richard Foreman: Yes, I never think of the audience when making one of my own pieces—but I have been audience at each of your pieces, and I admire the work of everyone here precisely because on various occasions all your work has been a “problem” for me. I rejoice in those problems. I’ve grown most through experiencing the various moments of impasse that your work has presented. In a profound sense, I am sad when I conquer that impasse and it no longer exists—only a memory. The task is, I think, to make work that resists for as long as possible being assimilated into that tradition of “pleasing” art, in which the audience has learned how to be seduced, lose itself and flow along with what then comes to seem carefully calculated changes.

Trisha Brown: That's interesting to me. In my most recent piece—called Accumulation—I perform one gesture 15 times. Then I add gesture two and perform one and two 15 times. Then I add three, continuing this procedure for 55 minutes. The general audience's need is much faster than 15 times—it's more like seven. As a performer I am conditioned to keep the thing I'm doing alive and it was difficult to endure that slow delivery and not give in to the audience. While I performed the piece I said to myself over and over again, “this is all there is, this is it, this gesture is all there is.”

Robert Dunn: Trish is speaking about the struggle against inner preconceptions. . . . There are certain trade-offs between us and the audience. By trading the possibility of a multiple interpretation, for example, we don't have to label what we do. We don't insist the audience take an examination on the performance before leaving. I don't feel the audience is so wrong. We have survived, and we can do things that really interest and challenge ourselves, and continue to exist in the dance world. This is relatively new, and a lovely situation.

Twyla Tharp: I think we [Tharp and her company] used to be very belligerent on this point. One of our pieces was made in such a way that it was absolutely impossible to see more than a fifth. Another was made so that there was nothing but a solid cube in the middle of the stage, and it was quite clear you weren't going to see what was going on at the other side. Or maybe it would all go on inside. Once I got it through my head that the audience could indeed probably not see all I wanted them to see or see as I wanted, I could go on making pieces as if I were to see them. I could then work without being so defensive in relation to the audience.

Yvonne Rainer: Why did you make the obstacles in the beginning, though?

Twyla Tharp: Why? Because I wanted to make it very clear that I knew that they couldn't see it.

Stephen Koch: It was essentially a criticism of the audience?

Twyla Tharp: Yes. Very critical. Now I don't care. Now I'm not so interested in that. It seems a little snobbish and depressing to assume the audience is half-blind.

Robert Dunn: I call it didactic belligerence, and I hope it's fading out for all of us.

Stephen Koch: Did the challenges to the audience's customary experience of focus have—do they still have—a belligerent quality for everyone here?

Richard Foreman: For me, no doubt at all. When I began making pieces four years ago I invented all kinds of irritating noises, lights in the audience's eyes, broken rhythms—and I quite enjoyed watching the “weaker” members of the audience give up. But what moved me was the discovery—for myself anyway—that the effort to endure and see what was going on behind various painful and distractive phenomenon invested the events, words, etcetera with a rather new, often beautiful quality. The hostile techniques seem to call up certain resources in the perceptual process which then alter the objects observed. Perhaps it's that more energy flows from perceiver to the object. Certainly, I found great new energies being generated—and still do—even though I'm less hostile today. . . .

Yvonne Rainer: One gets seduced by one's own belligerent devices. I started out trying to make dance like sculpture. I was accepting, or dealing with, the fact that you forgot a movement as soon as you saw it. So I would repeat it, so that it was seen from two or three sides, facing upstage or downstage. Then that repetition became attractive as a compositional means, a way to make a duration. I forgot about my original intention.

As for belligerence, I often tried to make it difficult or not show all the cards. I'd have two or more things, two very different things, in the same space. The spectator would have to make a choice, or one activity would interfere with another.

Richard Foreman: But were you always interested in people making that choice? Couldn't they change their mode of attention so that the conflicting events could be held simultaneously in a kind of meditative, nondirected attention?

Yvonne Rainer: I did that also. I'm thinking particularly of a sequence in The Mind is a Muscle. On one side of the space the group is doing a series of tableaux—very pictorial and static. On the other side is a magician, with his whole bag of tricks. Balls and hats and bowling pins. You could pay attention to him—there was a lot of detail, he was quite skilled, funny, and eccentric. But you could pay attention to him and still know what was happening on the other side of the stage.

Richard Foreman: I realize that most of my audience will choose at each moment to watch a particular portion of the total stage-event. But that is the opposite of what I hope for—I wish the audience would learn to see differently, to float at all times in front of the total field of the stage. The small adjustments of gesture, light, word, etcetera, that occur moment by moment—those should slightly redefine the field as a whole rather than cause the attention to dart about from event to event.

But I know the audience has not been taught to behave in the way that would make my work most rewarding for them. I too, sometimes, at my own pieces, get sucked into watching this or that part of the field—however, when that happens, I know I'm cheating myself, I'm being lazy.

Daniel Sverdlik: I suppose it's a question of what's foreground and what's background. If you have two overlapping fields, I might not look at that and see it as two things. I might just see what is there, one total image. One of the ways Meredith thinks of a performance is as a mosaic, except not as a static mosaic. Imagine you're looking at one, and when you look again, things have changed a bit. The overall structure remains. Sometimes you are able to watch only a small part of it moving, but you can't watch everything because it can't be encompassed in the field of vision. You say, “Oh, I want to watch that now,” and then you look back. There are sections that repeat for a while. And you watch each part of the mosaic evolve separately.

The last piece we did in New York was in three radically different spaces. The first part, for example, was performed lengthwise in a long loft. The audience was separated by quite a distance—I’d say 20 feet—from the “stage” which was just another part of the loft. Because of the problems of depth of field and picking up things in long perspective, you could see things crossing the visual field, but sometimes it was hard to see things going front and backward. You couldn't always be sure if something had come toward you. It was a question of having to determine it by size or shadowing or something else.

Robert Dunn: Meredith sometimes offers enforced focus of audience attention, and in the same piece an impossible focus of audience attention, which must be divided, chosen, and arouses conflicts. In general, the range of focus is very large: you can focus down hard on meanings; by the use of stage lights you can force the audience's attention. There has been a very obvious change in dance lighting in the last ten years to a general overall lighting instead of hard dramatic focus. I really resented having my attention pulled around. For years I was interested in defocus, but now I've done it so much that I find myself interested in the possibilities of hard focus again. I wouldn't want to be obligated to either for life.

Yvonne Rainer: I want to manipulate the pants off them!


Trisha Brown: Twyla, do you start with a conception of how the piece will be, the total piece?

Twyla Tharp: No. That would be total frustration.

Trisha Brown: You start with an individual movement?

Twyla Tharp: Sometimes.

Trisha Brown: And what movement your dancers bring in?

Twyla Tharp: No. Nobody brings anything in. I might suggest something, or they might suggest something to me. Then I say “why don't you see about doing it this way,” and they'll see about it. It might be entirely different from what I might have had in mind, but if it makes sense in some kind of way, then it's just fine. If it's appropriate.

Trisha Brown: If you have no conception to begin with, how do you know it's appropriate?

Twyla Tharp: That's when the conception comes about. I find it very difficult to come in with an idea of what I want to see. Because I can already see it perfectly.

Trisha Brown: Where?

Twyla Tharp: In my mind. So why bother with that duplication?

Yvonne Rainer: It makes me think of something that may relate to all of us: how improvisation takes various forms; how certain elements in a situation are not controlled and preconceived; or are dependent on certain constants. Like the given physical personalities of the performers.

I just spent four days in Provincetown shooting part of a new film. The last film l made had a totally preconceived script: I had very little time in which to work, and it seemed the most expedient way to get it done. I didn't feel I had any time to make decisions right at the moment. But in Provincetown I did have time. The constants and preconception had to do with a given location and the skill of the person running the camera, and the personalities of the two performers I had worked with before. In a way, it was all set up. Still, I had to make a lot of decisions right on the spot, because there were many unexpected circumstances—like difficulties of communication involved with shooting one person on a cliff in the foreground and another in the background 300 feet down on the beach. Things that I couldn't have anticipated when I first conceived the project.

Twyla Tharp: I think the act of performing is always that. The old movie comics set out knowing what they could do, knew their strengths from past performances. They vaguely knew where the end of the thing was going and they did it, they got from one point to the next. They knew their characters and they knew what was appropriate for that character. They knew what they could do and they would sort of pull it through that way. What came out, came out.

Stephen Koch: Quite so, but what came out could be edited, and thereby controlled very closely. And the result was a variety of performance—the filmic performance—which is always exactly the same each time it's done.

Daniel Sverdlik: The way I look at it, a really good improvisation will look as though it could have been set. If someone is thinking very quickly on his or her feet, the action has no time delay and you don't see that the person is thinking; you just see the person moving.

Robert Dunn: Well, it takes a considerable amount of performance experience to be able to estimate nowadays exactly what is happening. That's part of the enchantment too.

Daniel Sverdlik: Suppose I've been watching a sequence for five minutes; the question arises, “Did you tell everybody to follow the line for five minutes or were they just told 'OK, go for five minutes'?”

Robert Dunn: For me, it's a question of how set the improvisation is. Even film never gets to the end of the spectrum, because in a different screening, the screen is of a different size, the audience is different, it takes on a different mood.

Yvonne Rainer: I think we're talking about two different things. One is improvisation as perceived by the beholder. The other is an approach to making something before the audience sees it, that incorporates varying degrees of improvisation. Of course, they are not mutually exclusive. The Grand Union performances are now totally improvised. We discuss and rehearse nothing beforehand. And people have come up to me after performances and asked “who directed this,” as if everything had been totally preconceived.

Twyla Tharp: But improvisation seems to start in most people's minds with the assumption that one goes with very little idea about what he's going to set about doing. Now the people in The Grand Union have worked together a lot; some have known one another for a long time, and that's not starting from nothing.

Trisha Brown: Well, if I have something I want to do, I might ask other members of the group to do it with me. But I can't think of a time when I've asked the whole group to anticipate what's going to happen for more than ten minutes. It is evident in- the work of The Grand Union that anything can happen. We whack away at the outside limits of familiarity all the time.

Yvonne Rainer: You sort of recognize the quality of the things that get going. There's an overall preconception. I know if I go to David Gordon and say something, he's going to pick up on my point of view. I know generally how he will respond to a particular bit, and he knows what to expect from me. But it's still a very precarious business. We're kind of geared toward success in The Grand Union, because we flop so often. We have a compulsion to keep things going.

Twyla Tharp: Does that mean that you don't present what you think is going to be a difficult problem?

Yvonne Rainer: Well, I think we'll have to get down to particular problems. Trisha, do you agree with this? The Grand Union has gotten into a kind of crowd-pleasing. We are aware when the audience is with us or not—

Trisha Brown: We've gone for the belly laughs instead of—

Yvonne Rainer: The long haul! (General laughter)

Trisha Brown: Humor is a safe solution to a sticky problem.

Richard Forman: Don't you hope and expect that most of your audience is going to be interested in your particular esthetic problems?

Trisha Brown: Well, at this point, The Grand Union is mostly about behavior. There are eight dancers of varying technical and dramatic skills. Eight different emotional characters—one's depressed, one's drunk, one's tired in any given evening of performance. We work spontaneously before the audience with these materials and anything else that we can get our hands on—real or imaginary for two or three hours. The audience is there to observe the fallout, how we manage, how we behave in this context.

Richard Foreman: Ah, that last statement interests me, because lately I've been rather perplexed by what I've seen of The Grand Union. I've noticed—and others who don't know you personally have expressed similar sentiments in my presence—a kind of in-group jokiness that seems on the verge of dominating the performance. That makes me wonder if that in-front-of-the-audience aspect—doing your relatedness in front of an audience, has been fully worked through. Perhaps you're more ambivalent about doing it “for the audience” than you'd like to admit.

Yvonne Rainer: Well, a good part of the time I'm not sure I want to be there, and I'm sure all of us have experienced that at one time or another. The pressure to put out under such conditions can be killing.

Richard Foreman: Up front, that seems to be a wonderful and daring thing—to work out a relationship in front of 200 spectators—

Yvonne Rainer: I guess that's why a lot of people follow us so closely. They want to be in on it, they very much identify with the individual performers, the real personalities and their successes and difficulties. That's what fascinates them. I'd like to talk about a particular bit Trisha and I did in one of the last concerts. I had talked about making fictitious monologues about various people in the group. Various types of pasts—shady pasts—that people had. Somehow I latched onto Trisha. I was on my back and Trisha was in a chair, and I started talking about how she had been 'a chorus girl in Las Vegas when she met Howard Hughes. After a couple of sentences, it just bogged down. I mean I got very uptight about it, it was not going smoothly, it was like a bad dream. We struggled with it, but neither of us could get it off the ground. But the audience who comes to see us, I think, has been gradually conditioned to put up with the hard times, and even indulge them.

Trisha Brown: Right, they come for the frustration of the performance.

Yvonne Rainer: Right, they love the smell of blood.

Trisha Brown: Right, right, right.


Richard Foreman: It's odd. In my work—after seeing various groups (especially The Grand Union and Yvonne's pieces that led to that) I began to feel very guilty about allowing the performers in my work so little freedom. Nothing could be further than improvisation from the way I stage my plays. And yet I've begun to realize that in the actual writing of the text, which always precedes the eight or ten weeks of rehearsal, I more and more approach some kind of improvisation procedure. I have an increasing need to approach the setting down of a text for performance in the most casual manner. Then, when the improvised text seems long enough, it's a matter of staging it so that the accidents and necessities of that “casual” composition are clearly revealed in all their very noncasual density. In staging the work I’m out to prove that whatever I set down on paper turns out—because of the rigor of the staging procedure—to have the weight and density of Shakespeare himself. And I think it’s true, I think there is a way to “make present” each fact of the performance so that the implied angle of vision onto that performance fact is what carries the weight and profundity and energy—and for that reason it’s most exhilarating for me to stage a text that fooled me into thinking it was only a casual thing . . . and then discover it can be approached from such an angle that it reveals splendors. Of course, even so, I discard 75% of what I write, but I can’t consciously explain why I keep or discard a certain section. Perhaps I keep it if the sources of the improvisation seem sufficiently inexplicable to me. . . .

It’s rooted in the Steinian idea of beginning and beginning again. That’s the improvisation. For my purposes, that continual rebeginning soon baffles consciously directed effort. Or rather, the effort gets channeled into considerations of process rather than goal. The only goal, of course, being to reimmerse yourself in the right rhythm of word-next-to-word activity.

Robert Dunn: I return to what Twyla was saying about actual performance of a fully set piece. Twyla might show a dancer something and say “this is a whole pattern. Now find a way to do this with your own body.” But—

Twyla Tharp: No. To me that’s a foolish thing to do, to reset a whole set pattern. Isn’t the interesting thing about whatever improvisation means, where one chooses to begin, how you choose to start? The problem of improvising in an empty room is not nearly so challenging as improvising in a densely put-in room. And so under performance conditions, you start at a certain point, you know that it will in some way change. But there has to be that starting point. You always acknowledge that the point is there.

Robert Dunn: Well, that might attach to what Richard said about the Stein idea of beginning and beginning again. Moment by moment, one can always find a starting point. There is no such thing as an empty room. In improvisation there is always something there to motivate and release action. And if it’s something you don’t choose voluntarily, it’s something that chooses you.

Twyla Tharp: I guess it’s more interesting if you don’t think you’re starting again all the time. I mean there’s always enough there so that you don’t have to make that rupture all the time.

Robert Dunn: Well, there are both possibilities. I don’t see why you can’t use both according to temperament. I have a temperament that would like to use both in the same project.

Twyla Tharp: Starting again and continuing. Robert Dunn: Starting again, and starting again, and starting again; and then sometimes starting again and continuing. I really think that the problem is not where to start again. There is always a place. The problem is where to interrupt, when to interrupt. When to stop.

Yvonne Rainer: I think this idea of starting again is in a way almost impossible. It totally ignores the experience one has had with one’s own most recent way of making something, the most recent idea that has led to where you are right now.

Letting go of certain controls is a kind of improvisation. I have found that this comes about for me through having already exerted controls to the utmost to make the maximal number of decisions. Then letting go of them is the result of trusting that I will have an appropriate response to the new situation. I might almost define my process as a closing down, becoming more controlled and less improvisational in every new thing I tackle. But as I become familiar with the material or with new performers, there may be more improvisation, letting more unknowns enter the work. Even starting with more unknowns.

Richard Foreman: Starting with flaws. Starting with mistakes. Starting with everything that you’re most afraid of—because everything you consciously want to reject from your work, probably for that very reason has the strongest possible necessity and greatest possible weight. Allowing yourself to be seduced by all that you consider greatest weaknesses, your worst flaw.

Yvonne Rainer: I’d say that’s the way I’ve made a lot of things.

Twyla Tharp: There was a piece that we did which started out with the problem of making 100 11-second phrases of movement, each different. The only stipulation was that each movement had to be completely unrelated to the one that had gone before. But completely.

Unfortunately, we had to perform them in sequence, we had to start again and 100 times in quick succession under performance tension and pressure. It was not only a very difficult problem, it was an impossible problem. Because whatever we did, we found that there were continuities that were there all along, and we simply came to recognize them, to learn them in a different way.

Yvonne Rainer: Well, isn’t that the classical learning process for dancers? At first, a movement doesn’t feel right, and then your kinetic memory takes over, and your muscles make the connections.

Twyla Tharp: Not exactly, because some of our connections were rational. And then they began to fall into sets, and one set would follow another. We just couldn’t deal with so much disparateness over so short a period of time.

Yvonne Rainer: I am involved with various kinds of simultaneous arrangements. This gets into contextural problems of meaning, as well as focus and space. If I use film or slides, what particular slide or photograph goes with what other slide? When a film is shown, against what is it juxtaposed in terms of the live performance going on behind it or beside it, or in front of it?

Daniel Sverdlik: The question of meaning is one that can be very difficult to get across. You’re doing something which to you has a certain meaning, and the audience is likely to interpret it as almost anything. And to me this is fine. In Scientific American, September, 1972, there’s a New Yorker cartoon reproduced. A little girl is in front of a class, making a gesture, and the cartoon shows that she’s thinking “flower.” Everyone else in the class has a different idea of what the little girl is doing, “airplane,” “cow,” “octopus,” etcetera. Yet she is perfectly sure that’s a flower.

Richard Foreman: I would be surprised if anyone here were concerned with that.

Yvonne Rainer: When I talk about connections and meaning, I’m talking about the emotional load of a particular event and not about what it signifies. Its signification is always very clear. I don’t really deal with symbols, I deal with categories of things and they have varying degrees of emotional load. There is often a spectrum of categories in my work. The most elaborate spectrum was an evening called “Rose Fractions” in 1969. Part of the evening dealt with formal groupings of people, and to me that’s a category. Using people that way carries a particular weight, not at all psychological. Some other events were more loaded psychologically: a slide of Lenny Bruce lying dead on his bathroom floor, a so-called blue-movie, two people dancing nude in another movie, me reciting a Lenny Bruce monologue on snot. All these things were exactly what they were—they weren’t connected narratively to what preceded or followed. The decisions I’m talking about have to do with a very subjective set of responses to the impact that certain things have when they appear together in these sequences. That might be hard to talk about, but there is never any doubt about what a given image is. It has a specific weight; its meaning is clear. Why it is in the piece, and in that particular juxtaposition, is not always so clear. And of course my intentions keep changing. At this point I am involved in making more sequential and narrative connections than before.

Richard Foreman: Isn’t the juxtaposition clear if you simply accept the distinction between a poetic and a narrative art? Are we saying that for the first time performance is getting into a kind of poetic as opposed to narrative form? I know, of course, that Yvonne is getting more narrative elements into the work she’s doing. But still it seems to me that her vocabulary is still primarily a poetic vocabulary instead of a narrative vocabulary.

Stephen Koch: Isn’t the literary analogy to poetry a little confusing in this situation?

Richard Foreman: I assume that the techniques are those which focus you on the surface of your material—the text or the performance becomes relatively opaque. In narrative, the performance implies that you should watch where each moment is leading you—to some postulated, imagined life elsewhere, in the land of art and dreams. I don’t think anybody here wants their work used as an excuse to start dreaming. Wake up! Stop dreaming! That’s what’s so uninteresting about all that realistic, narrative stuff. Of course, I spend a good deal of my time dreaming—reverie—but not in front of a performance hopefully.

Twyla Tharp: What has working potential as narrative may frequently mean, at least it does for me, that something has been imposed on it. But it doesn’t make it poetic just because—you know what I mean?

Stephen Koch: No. Could you explain?

Twyla Tharp: Well, when Daniel was talking about meaning, it sounded a bit as though it was something that was not going to come across at that time, in that place. Maybe we should keep thinking about, for example, enthusiasm, which always registers theatrically, or certain other kinds of energy that register in different ways. Aren’t these the poetic factors. Maybe it’s a loaded definition to say that that which registers is poetic.

Robert Dunn: And I was just thinking about how I’ve come to feel nowadays. We have been talking about meaning, and really recapitulating some of the dreariest chapters in the field of esthetics.* Suddenly Twyla is talking about energy, and I said yes, I will use anything which releases energy. And Yvonne was talking about putting restrictions in, and restrictions particularly release energy. I think of this energy as poetic energy, of which physical movement and narrative factors can both contribute.


Stephen Koch: Several people here have dramatically altered the direction of their work in the last few years. Could you comment?

Daniel Sverdlik: Well, our work has changed a lot in the sound part. The first things I did with Meredith in 1968 had very little sound. There were some tapes. After, Meredith began to sing, and then the rest of us got involved with singing. I don’t know whether to call the singing songs. Sometimes it was sound in its own right. Other times the sound would act as cues. During Vessel in the Performing Garage, there was one point at which someone entered the performing space, sang a set of notes and kept repeating it. Then someone else entered and sang. Another character had introduced himself, and the two of them were singing back and forth. I’d definitely say we had become more theatrical. In fact, I describe our work as a combination of all the performing arts and some of the visual arts.

Trisha Brown: The greatest change for me is that I’ve dropped those enormous constructions I’ve been working on for five years or more. Tackle systems that allow me to walk on the wall, and mountain climbing equipment for walking down seven-story buildings and a wall that allowed people to appear to be free falling. I’ve dropped the props and the sound and the costuming and everything else. I’ve just been dealing with solo performance, frontally with the audience, with movement. I’d been going along heavily burdened with my enormous props and constructions, and I dumped them. They were a burden in a million ways. In terms of safety to the performer and the audience. There were grave considerations of safety. There was storage. There was carrying them into the theater and installing them. There was the cost. And I had completed a series, I had done what I wanted to do with gravity and space. Now I’m selecting gestures, doing something that is very tight, structurally.

Robert Dunn: I wouldn’t say I had thrown away anything. I’ve just thrown away the insistence on any one thing.

Yvonne Rainer: I don’t remember that your teaching ever insisted on one thing.

Robert Dunn: I think I was much more insistent about random means of structuring to escape ingrained patterns. But the range of possibilities is so much more evident now that I don’t have to deal with that so much.

Yvonne Rainer: For me, the body is no longer the main focus. I’m interested in private experience and the problems of projecting it. But I think I still put things together in the same way. My content is different, but I have the same ideas of duration and juxtaposition. I call myself a choreographer because I discovered my artistry and formal methods for framing it. I also like the concrete kind of problem-solving that the word choreographer encompasses. Besides, there’s still dancing in my work.

Stephen Koch: Have you dropped any methods or techniques?

Yvonne Rainer: Yes. Gymnastic movement.

Richard Foreman: My work is changing because the only thing that gives me energy to make piece after piece is a very real need to try and make things that my formal sense can’t end up controlling. I think I have an overly strong formal sense, I can’t abide not seeing things clearly, not carefully framed . . . and the shift in my work is very slow for that reason. That desire to escape myself is the only reason I can take art-making seriously, and I think it insures the work will always keep changing. Except, of course, that means the direction of the work will soon become overly predictable? Hummm. . . .

*Some of the drearier paragraphs in those chapters have been deleted from this text. Stephen Koch.