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Reviewed by:
  • Radical Bodies: Anna Halprin, Simone Forti, and Yvonne Rainer in California 1955–1972 ed. by Ninotchka Bennahum, Wendy Peron, Bruce Robertson
  • Holly Taylor (bio)
Radical Bodies: Anna Halprin, Simone Forti, and Yvonne Rainer in California 1955–1972, edited by Ninotchka Bennahum, Wendy Peron, Bruce Robertson. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2016.

Radical Bodies is less of a biographical account of the lives of Anna Halprin, Simone Forti, and Yvonne Rainer—three now-recognized pillars of postmodern dance—and more of a testament to their influence. The book, a collection of diversely authored writings, thematically highlights similarities between these artists as major instigators of dance’s shift away from modernism. As each of these women hail from California, the authors redirect a New York City–centric narrative of postmodernism’s explosion towards one of exchange between east and west coasts. The inclusion of Forti’s letters to Halprin articulate this transnational dialogue, as well as the intertwinings of self/artist and life/art for all three women.

Halprin, Forti, and Rainer shared questions about what “dance” was and what it might be. They mined the everyday and the self for artistic material and championed interdisciplinary collaboration. Radical Bodies reflects this last point in its range of authorship, including voices from visual, performing, and sonic art worlds—a gesture to the genre-defying, collaborative energies of these women. All three artists also re-envisioned the dancing body beyond codified movement, concerning themselves with the pedestrian, emotive, real-life body in performance. In this sense, the authors claim Halprin, Forti, and Rainer as early generators of feminist inquiry and as radically active female bodies.

Additionally, the authors of Radical Bodies also take care to honor practices and goals specific to each artist: Halprin’s insistence on dance as a social, ecological, civic, and empathetic project; Forti’s trust in the body as its own communicator; and Rainer’s consideration of cultural demands on the body. The book’s feature articles take different approaches to situating the artists in time and in relation to each other: Bennahum’s consideration of Halprin is often biographical, Perron’s writing on Forti anecdotal, and Robertson’s reflection on Rainer more analytical. The reader must make thematic connections on their own, which is apt, given the complex relationships, artistic and otherwise, between these women. [End Page 102]

The book is punctuated with visuals: performance photos, film stills, rehearsal notes, manuscripts, drawings, and improvisational scores. The visual organization asks its reader to engage with Halprin, Forti, and Rainer’s radical bodies through images of them in motion and written representations of their work. In keeping with the interdisciplinary spirit of these postmodern innovators, dancing bodies are invoked in the text through “not dance”: images and words. That choice ultimately renders dance, the supposedly ephemeral, tangible and enduring art, able to inspire and testify across history and into the future. Radical Bodies textually embodies Yvonne Rainer’s words, “My body remains an enduring reality.” The book constitutes the bodies of all three women and the influence their bodies exert as enduring realities: active, radical agents of change. [End Page 103]

Holly Taylor

HOLLY TAYLOR is a recent graduate of Yale College where she studied American dance and performance culture.



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pp. 102-103
Launched on MUSE
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