David Gordon

Mikhail Baryshinikov

Deborah Hay

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This article by Nicole Plett was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on

July 19, 2000. All rights reserved.

Prince of Downtown Dance: Baryshnikov

E-mail: NicolePlett@princetoninfo.com

Nearly 40 years ago, Steve Paxton choreographed a

walking, crouching, sitting dance during which he removed most of

the articles of clothing he was wearing and hung them niftily on hooks

he had taped to his body before dressing in them again. Paxton was

one of 14 iconoclastic and creative American choreographers who shared

a free, three-hour concert of extremely odd dances at the Judson


Church just off Washington Square in New York in July, 1962.

That first Judson concert is remembered as a sweltering day and as

a watershed year for American dance. But a world away, at the famed

Vaganova Ballet School in Leningrad, the 14-year-old Mikhail


was busy practicing his plies and pirouettes, oblivious to the dance

revolution in New York.

The Judson concerts, which grew and expanded over six or seven banquet

years, have become mythic in American dance, among those who made

them and those who have simply heard and read about them. An early

program, for instance, included Lucinda Childs’ "Carnation,"

in which the dancer places a salad colander on her head and proceeds

to painstakingly insert hair curlers into the colander, before moving

along a sheet she has placed on the stage, and attacking a seemingly

inoffensive blue plastic bag.

Now Mikhail Baryshnikov, who grew to be one of the most admired


ballet dancers of the 20th century, is offering us all another look

at Judson and the choreographers who began their careers there.


who leapt over the Iron Curtain at age 26, is bringing America’s past

forward with his White Oak company’s latest project, "Past


The concert program, opening in Princeton and set to tour


offers a grand union of seven Judson alumni — Deborah Hay, Trisha

Brown, Lucinda Childs, Simone Forti, David Gordon, Yvonne Rainer,

and Paxton — in a sampler of some Judson benchmarks and an array

of new works performed by Baryshnikov and his White Oak dancers. The

project is directed by one of Judson’s protean members, David Gordon.

McCarter Theater hosts the project in its developmental stages with

four performances, Thursday, August 3, through Sunday, August 6.


dances throughout the run with his company of six that features Raquel

Aedo, Emily Coates, Emmanuele Phuon, all of whom performed at last

year’s McCarter engagement. Company newcomers are Rosalynde LeBlanc,

formerly of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company, and Juilliard


Michael Lomeka.

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David Gordon

"I think essentially this sort of bizarre circumstance of this

Russian ballet star who becomes the foremost person in America to

save the history of modern dance — is an irony," says Gordon,

in an interview from New York, where the company is in intensive


Gordon compares the Judson crucible to the turn-of-the-century milieu

of the Parisian painters. "In the same way that all those painters

were in Paris at the same moment, paying attention to what each other

was doing, and having a dialogue on canvas with each other, what


in the early ’60s was that all of these people who had come to New

York were showing each other who they were and what they thought,

and they were affecting each other."

It was no coincidence that the dancers who looked at all movement

— from a slump-shouldered walk and a roll across the floor to

dressing and undressing or sitting in a chair — as legitimate

fodder for the choreographer’s art, were working alongside the Civil

Rights movement and the youth protests against the Vietnam War. This

was also a rare moment when dance sat near the top of the fine arts

heap, attracting artists from all the arts disciplines, including

painters Robert Rauschenberg and Alex Hay, and sculptors Walter de

Maria and Robert Morris.

Two complete programs of new and old works by the Judson

dancers, programs that are both independent and complementary, are

planned. Technicians, company members, and choreographers begin


on Monday, July 24, for roughly 10 days’ work to finalize the program.

Lighting will be by Jennifer Tipton, the dance world’s singlemost

revered lighting designer who also performed in the Judson 1962 debut.

"My official job is to be the director and writer of the whole

event, to put it together in some fashion," Gordon explains. What

is he putting together? "We’ll know a lot more about what that

is after Princeton."

"Past Forward" will certainly include all or parts of Gordon’s

1975 "Chair," originally created as a duet for himself and

his wife and partner Valda Setterfield (actually a trio if you count

the chair.) Also featured is his more recent "Beethoven" —

a 1998 quartet to music by Beethoven. There’s also another new Gordon

work for the White Oak company, to Bach unaccompanied cello preludes,

called "For the Love of Rehearsal."

Featured among the revivals will be Yvonne Rainer’s "The Mind

is a Muscle" (now known as "Trio A") of 1964. This


designed to be performed by trained or untrained dancers, is


minutes of movement performed without peaks or valleys, constant


in which each step and gesture appears only once.

Also in rehearsal for the McCarter program is Paxton’s "Satisfyin’

Lover" of 1967, a walking, stopping, and sitting dance for 42

ordinary people (recruited from a cross section of area community

groups, a contact improv group, and from a posting at McCarter


who walk from stage right to stage left according to a strict written

score. (In 1970 Paxton tried to present a performance for 42 nude

redheads, but that’s not the version slated here.)

Gordon and Baryshnikov’s friendship goes back to Gordon’s first


from American Ballet Theater (ABT), "Field, Chair and


of 1985, to music by the Irish composer John Field, for a cast of

20 that included Martine van Hamel and Clark Tippet. The following

year, Baryshnikov was featured in Gordon’s comic spoof,


for ABT, which also featured narration by Valda Setterfield, scenery

and costumes by Edward Gorey, and music of Hector Berlioz.

"Misha had come to see my work downtown at the Dance Theater


and called me," Gordon recalls. "Misha was then doing at ABT

what he has continued to do with White Oak which is — in my


— revolutionary in America: To erase the boundaries between the

various art forms and to insist on being interested in the dance forms

he’s interested in."

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Mikhail Baryshinikov

Baryshnikov defected to the United States during the

Kirov’s 1974 tour, when he was already an international star. In New

York he spent time at New York City Ballet and at American Ballet

Theater where his 1976 boundary-breaking tour de force in Twyla

Tharp’s jazzy and genial "Push Comes to Shove" gave a clear

indication of things to come. This is a dancer, after all, who left

home, family, and friends for a more expansive chance at his art.

From 1980 to 1989, as his ballet performing years wound down, he


American Ballet Theater, where he commissioned more new works by


modern dance choreographers such as Gordon, Tharp, and Morris.

Since 1990, Baryshnikov’s performing life has been revived by the

White Oak Dance Project, a company — or more accurately a concept

— he devised with choreographer Mark Morris. The project was


expressly to create repertory and extended residencies to serve both

dancers and their art. Within two years of White Oak’s founding,


withdrew to devote his attention to his own company, and


took on White Oak as his principal forum.

The company, which began its commissions with the most prominent names

in choreography, has grown increasingly adventuresome, and an


springboard for an emerging generation of young choreographers. Last

year, its pair of McCarter programs included works by such major


as Trisha Brown and Mark Morris, as well as highlighting the


Neil Greenberg, Australian choreographer Lucy Guerin, and Amy O’Brien.

A program highlight was a pungent new solo for Baryshnikov by the

Japanese Kabuki artist Tamasaburo Bando.

The eventual White Oak "Past Forward" program will open with

film by Charles Atlas with a voice-over in which Baryshnikov talks

about the Judson era, what went on, where he was, and where the Judson

artists went. (Most are considered the elder statesmen of modern dance

today, commanding big audiences in big venues in the U.S. and Europe.)

Gordon explains, however, that in all likelihood the film will not

be ready for Princeton, so there will be a different kind of opening

event, based on the same written material, and narrated by


"Misha is host because he’s essentially the curator of this show.

It is he who went and spoke personally with every single person


to this to begin to put together what he wanted," says Gordon.

"When he came to me about directing it, I said it looked to me

like he was already doing it. What does he need from me? And he very

sweetly said `help.’ So I like him very much and I think we’re friends

and so I’m helping."

"This isn’t about a recreation of some past event. It is simply

a gathering together of artists who began — who combusted —

somewhere at the same time, and have gone their separate ways over

the years — whose work shares having been initially performed

in a certain place at a certain time."

Gordon’s witty and ingenious dance works, which frequently employed

both speech, visual elements, and props, have never been easy to


His latest work, "Autobiography of a Liar," for 12 performers

of the David Gordon Pick-Up Company, ran at New York’s Dancespace

in January. It included Lola Pashalinsky, an actor from the Charles

Ludlum Ridiculous Theater Company, playing a character named David


"My own feeling is that I was making theater dance when I was

making only dance, and when I go into theater it says `directed and

choreographed by’ — and I think I do a kind of staging which is

dance. So I’m just looking at the whole range of what can be done

in relation to what I’m interested in."

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Deborah Hay

Another mover and shaker of the Judson era is Deborah Hay, a maverick

dance artist who now lives and works in Austin, Texas. Hay rejected

all physically destructive dance technique, both of her ballet


and of the Merce Cunningham dance company with which she performed.

Her work was deeply influenced by Chinese Tai Chi practice and has

evolved into a unique technique and philosophy of total engagement.

Hay has two pieces in the "Past Forward" project, both newly

minted. "Whiz" is for the company of six. Also premiering

is a duet for Baryshnikov and Hay called "Single Duet."

"The reason I’m doing new pieces is that I couldn’t possibly


any of my works from then. I could never remember them and they’re

nowhere notated," she says guilelessly.

"The duet with Misha came as quite a surprise both to me and to

the project," says Hay. "I wasn’t asked to do a duet, it came

to me in a flash. It usually takes me six months to make a piece.

And it wasn’t even on my mind. It just came to me as a total duet

and I made very detailed notes from beginning to end.

"I wrote to Misha the same day and told him what had happened.

And he called me right away and said we had to do it.

"I think that’s an indication of why this project is happening

— because he’s so available. He’s an open-minded person and he’s

smart. He doesn’t run from things. He’s ferocious in his appetite

for connection with other artists. He’s running toward


Hay has no previous connection with Baryshnikov. "He had seen

a video of me performing my most recent solo, `FIRE,’"

she says, "and called me and we had a 45-minute conversation about

his experience with that video. He was interested in the theatricality

of it. That was an element of dance that he felt he hadn’t seen."

Hay was invited to the White Oak Foundation in Florida in February

where she spent four days. "I performed `FIRE’ for him

live. Then he asked me what I wanted to do with the company. It’s

an absolutely — I can’t get my head around what’s going on. It’s

so enormous, I think. My new book is coming out in October. Everything

seems to be happening so generously to me right now."

"Choreographically the duet has a very simple form. And the form

stayed the same. But it’s how he performs it — I think it’s a

tour de force. It’s like watching two different planets on

the stage together. In a sense it’s symbolic of the whole project.

I trust him utterly as a performer. And I trust the process by which

we will both arrive at a place of this being truly a `single


As a dancer whose technique is predicated on the idea of dancing


Hay actively supports Baryshnikov’s desire to keep his performing

life alive.

"I just see it as such a courageous and generous act on his part

to say, `Yes I want more, and I want to grow, and I want to change.’

For him to be going into the second part of his life and to be


change in the way he is, he is certainly not a dancer who needs to

be bolstered on any point, but rather enhanced, and taking the dance

more soulfully into his life, perhaps."

Moving out of a century when ballet and modern dance rarely met at

all — and even Martha Graham’s dancers were instructed not to

talk to the students of her rival Doris Humphrey — this Russian

ballet star is reminding us all to celebrate dance.

Past Forward, McCarter Theater, 91 University Place,

609-258-2787. Mikhail Baryshnikov and his White Oak Dance Project

present new works and revivals by ’60s choreographers including Yvonne

Rainer, David Gordon, Deborah Hay, Trisha Brown, Steve Paxton and

Simone Forti. $45 & $50. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, August

3 to 5, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, August 6, at 2 p.m. www.mccarter.org

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