The art of re-dancing

Meredith Morse, Sara Wookey, Transmitting Trio A

Yvonne Rainer,  Sara Wookey, Trio A, UC Irvine

Yvonne Rainer, Sara Wookey, Trio A, UC Irvine

Yvonne Rainer, Sara Wookey, Trio A, UC Irvine

The measured toe-tapping, the headshaking hand-flapping. Sara Wookey is performing Yvonne Rainer’s landmark mid-sixties dance Trio A. Compared to clockwork more than once. Trio A keeps on going steadily, evenly, and never repeats. Its movement vocabulary—stepping, swaying, bending, rolling over—looks a lot like everyday movement.

Artist Sara Wookey is one of five people vested by Rainer—certified, Wookey says—to perform and teach the four-and-a-half-minute Trio A. Re-engaging with Trio A is timely: the Judson Dance Theater’s 50th anniversary was celebrated this past year, and the question of re-performances of 1960s-70s works remains topical. Wookey was in Australia during April at Rainer’s request to speak on Trio A and run workshops in Perth, Sydney and Melbourne through New York City’s biennial Performa program. Wookey’s latest work, Disappearing Acts & Resurfacing Subjects: Concerns of (a) Dance Artist(s), considers the fragility of body memory against fixed representations, and she has initiated reDANCE, which revisits Judson-era dance: projects highly congenial to Trio A.

In Sydney, Wookey explains that it took Rainer six months to make the work. Learning it is challenging, because even the gaze is choreographed—though it is intended that even non-dancers could do it. The body is held as if you’re not thinking about it, just walking to the corner shop or doing something like opening a door or sitting down. Trio A and Judson Dance have considerably influenced contemporary practices internationally, including Australian dance and performance art. Walking, falling, carrying people like objects; no music; non-narrative breaks; and, most surely, a concern with unadorned movement—all of these came from the Judson dancers’ rejection of the priorities and perceived excesses of ballet and modern dance.

When Wookey asked Rainer what ‘certified’ might mean, Rainer unhesitatingly said it was about transmission—like a radio transmitter, Wookey adds. Her performance of Trio A is as precise as that implies. And she gets the attitude right, simultaneously conveying intense focus—Rainer was known in the 1960s for her performance persona, just as she was known for her explicit wish to be a straightforward ‘doer,’ sans glamour or star quality—and Trio A’s matter-of-fact, workmanlike feel.

In her lecture-performance, Wookey demos Trio A straight, and then as an ‘unplugged’ version, uttering Rainer’s aptly descriptive teaching cues as she performs each movement: at one point, arms hang ‘like rocks on strings.’ In Judson style, words can be equivalent to actions: for a handstand, Rainer might now just say ‘handstand.’ The third version of Trio A that Wookey performs in Sydney is set to music, the Chambers Brothers’ In the Midnight Hour. Wookey manages her timing perfectly: both dance and music wrap up at the same moment. This version, presented in exactly the same way by Wookey, now suggests, with deadpan irony, the funkiness of 60s popular culture.

Wookey succeeded in ‘transmitting’ Trio A as a crystalline lens, itself an object of brilliant clarity, and one whose focus is as sharp as ever.

Sara Wookey is the Artistic Director of Wookey Works Studio: www.sarawookey.com; www.redanceproject.org. Sara Wookey, “Dance is Hard to See: Capturing and Transmitting Movement through Language, Media and Muscle Memory,” 13 April, workshop 9-12 April, Io Myers Studio, University of New South Wales, hosted by Performance Space, Sydney

RealTime issue #115 June-July 2013 pg. 15

© Meredith Morse; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

6 June 2013