“A charming eccentricity becomes obnoxious,” proclaimed Yvonne Rainer as her dancers jogged around the stage in high-water pants during Rainer’s fitfully charming, deeply eccentric “Assisted Living: Good Sports 2.”
What a dangerous thing to say. It might end up in a review! But I have a feeling that Rainer, whose cheekiness is legendary, knew she was speaking my thoughts. Her dancers looked like geek gods, pairing loony aloofness with lush, elastic bunny hops in bright new sneakers. But “Good Sports” had become obnoxious. The sound score of high-volume static and fuzzy radio reception competed with Rainer’s voice as she held forth on such light topics as Darwinian theories and Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the rights of man.
How self-aware is Rainer, really? Certainly, this respected elder known for her 1960s dance manifesto against spectacle and virtuosity has earned her the right to go her own way, to heck with everyone else. Yet it must be said that during her evening of works at Rockville’s American Dance Institute, it felt as if the black-box theater had become a lecture hall locked in a time capsule. Dry earnestness accumulated a deadening force.
During the second piece, “Assisted Living: Do You Have Any Money?”, Rainer and her dancers took turns vocally addressing the problem with Bolsheviks, and how the Defense of Marriage Act affects inheritance taxes. We heard warnings about impending conflicts between the have-jobs and the have-nones, and sobering statistics on U.S. incarceration rates compared with Josef Stalin’s. Important stuff, to be sure, but delivered with a hear-us-and-feel-enlightened air that was stale by several decades.
I was drawn to Rainer’s appearance this weekend largely out of regard for her launch of postmodern dance, when she was among the Greenwich Village rebels placing ordinary, unvarnished human movement and anti-establishment polemics in the spotlight as art. Good for her for developing a style and staying true to it. But some of her creative strategies — the didactic talkiness, the deliberate randomness — felt tired.
Yet what a gift she has for picking dancers, and getting them to move in simple, delicious ways. The five performers all have stellar pedigrees; longtime dance followers surely rejoiced, as I did, to see among them Keith Sabado, formerly of Mark Morris Dance Group, who went on to join Mikhail Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project. Emmanuele Phuon and Emily Coates also are fondly remembered from White Oak.
Am I a materialistic swine for gluing my eyes to Coates, who also danced with New York City Ballet, as she slowly unfolded her legs and curled her spine through basic barre exercises with pearlescent serenity, while I tuned out the critique of credit-sweep algorithms? Then let me be guilty. Call me a sucker for beauty, but watching Coates was worth it all.