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  • Feelings are Facts: A Life
  • Deborah Jowitt
Yvonne Rainer , Feelings are Facts: A Life. Cambridge, Massachusetts; London: MIT Press, 2006. 473 pages, illustrated. DOI: 10.3366/E026428750800011X

It's January 10, 1966. In the sanctuary of Judson Memorial Church in New York's Greenwich Village, three dancers, David Gordon, Steve Paxton, and Yvonne Rainer, perform Rainer's The Mind is a Muscle, Part I, better known as Trio A, a four-and-a-half-minute string of blunt, skillfully designed moves. They run through it twice – without emphasis and without pause, each in his or her own time, as if it were a task they executed daily. Meanwhile, artist Alex Hay tosses wooden laths from the church balcony to form a pile beside them. A few spectators protest and some walk out, but Trio A, since performed many times and in many guises, becomes a landmark in dance history.

That same year, Rainer wrote an essay that appeared in Gregory Battcock's Minimal Art, A Critical Anthology. She compared what she was attempting to achieve in Trio A with more traditional dance values and drew up a chart allying her concerns with those of 'so-called minimal' sculpture. (She knew what she was talking about; two years previously, she'd begun an affair with sculptor Robert Morris, and had been a regular at galleries ever since arriving in New York in 1956 with her then-husband, painter Al Held.) If, for example, current art that interested her minimized the 'role of the artist's hand' and introduced 'factory fabrication,' then she would substitute 'found movement' and 'energy equality' for the dynamic phrasing valued in more conventional choreography. The only permissible virtuosity lay in the intellectual process of the artist.

Rainer also downplayed what she felt to be dance's narcissism and other aspects of spectatorship. Wherever the performer of Trio A turns, she keeps her head averted from the audience, not wishing to make eye contact with viewers or emerge as a personality. This tactic resonates with the brilliantly deployed reticence, ambiguity, and displacement that have marked Rainer's work from her days as a member of the collaborative Judson Dance Theater (1962–64) to her later films and her recent return to choreography. In her compelling memoir, Feelings Are Fact: A Life, she mentions how, influenced by feminist theory, she took her Trio A strategy to extremes in her 1985 film, The Man Who Envied Women; her female protagonist eludes the appropriative 'male gaze' by never appearing onscreen as a physical presence.

Much has been written about and by Rainer (books, doctoral dissertations, essays, published lectures and interviews, etc.). In her introduction to Feelings Are Facts, she states her wariness of autobiography as 'confession,' given that word's implication of guilt. The book is not just a frank and uncensorious account of her [End Page 68] life; in a mosaic of diary entries, letters, photos, and mature perspectives, themes in her work emerge in relation to her experiences.

Displacement in its most literal sense was a sad feature of Rainer's childhood in San Francisco. She has yet to understand what combination of mental and physical problems could have caused her evidently loving and supportive mother and her acquiescent Italian-born father to farm out their two children to a series of foster homes and then, when Yvonne was four and Ivan seven, to a children's home with a somewhat Dickensian atmosphere. Eventually reunited with her family, Rainer grew up bold, yet profoundly insecure and at war with herself. She dropped out of the University of California after one panicky week, believing she'd never be able to keep up with those she judged to be brighter than she was. On her own in the Bay Area – working at odd jobs, reading, going to films, and making friends whose lifestyle belied the image of the 1950s as uptight – she discovered that, as she later put it, 'being wanted [was] a powerful aphrodisiac and ensurer of my worth.'

After Rainer and Held settled in New York, she fell into dance almost accidentally. It's startling to read a letter she wrote to her brother in 1959, laying...


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pp. 68-69
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Archived 2009
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