PRINT September 2018

Yvonne Rainer

Steve Paxton, Afternoon (a forest concert), 1963. Performance view, Billy Klüver’s property, Berkeley Heights, NJ, October 6, 1963. © Steve Paxton.

I WOULD LIKE to unequivocally and with utmost affection assert that Steve Paxton is a Grand Old Man of postmodern dance. With that said, and without offering definitive proof, let me proceed by giving an example of how Steve was always a step ahead of most of us, and of me in particular, when we were both taking Robert Dunn’s composition class in 1960. In response to Dunn’s assignment to make a one-minute dance, Steve sat on a bench and ate a sandwich. In hindsight, I see this provocative act as a launchpad for the ongoing dialogue between Steve’s curious conceptual intelligence and his remarkable kinetic gifts, which occasionally, as in the latter case, he was wont to evade or outwit. I must say his exertions in this regard could at times baffle me.

Steve Paxton and Yvonne Rainer, Word Words, 1963. Performance view, Judson Memorial Church, New York, January 29, 1963. Steve Paxton and Yvonne Rainer. Photo: Al Giese.

For instance, around 1963 he taught a handful of us—the group included me, Lucinda Childs, Tony Holder, and Barbara Lloyd—a rigorous sequence of Cunningham-like phrases, some of which involved difficult off-kilter balances on one leg. Having struggled mightily to master the balletic Cunningham technique, I was especially proud of being able to keep up with the more skilled dancers, some of whom, like Steve, were already members of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. The performance of this work, called Afternoon (a forest concert), was to take place in a forest in New Jersey. When we got out there, much to my chagrin, Steve expected us to execute the moves on the forest floor, recently softened by rain. It was only much later that I could appreciate the brilliance of his strategy. His somewhat academic movements had been transformed into something entirely new. By being forced to adapt to what seemed like exasperating conditions, we discovered compensatory tactics, like clinging to tree branches for balance and outmaneuvering the uneven terrain with last-minute falls and recoveries. I had to admit that he had wittily anticipated the situation from the outset without telling us. Since then, Steve has been my favorite wily choreographer.

Adapted from a 2014 tribute for Danspace Project in New York.

Yvonne Rainer is an artist based in New York.