Yvonne Rainer Biography


"Rainer was born in San Francisco in 1934. She trained as a modern dancer in New York from 1957 and began to choreograph her own work in 1960. She was one of the founders of the Judson Dance Theater in 1962, the beginning of a movement that proved to be a vital force in modern dance in the following decades. Between 1962 and 1975 she presented her choreography throughout the United States and Europe, notably on Broadway in 1969, in Scandinavia, London, Germany, and Italy between 1964 and 1972, and at the Festival D'Automne in Paris in 1972. In 1968 she began to integrate short films into her live performances, and by 1975 she had made a complete transition to filmmaking. In the Spring of 1997 -- to coincide with the release of MURDER and murder -- complete retrospectives of the films of Yvonne Rainer were mounted at the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco and at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York City" http://www.zeitgeistfilms.com/directors/rainer.html

"Rainer's parents were migrants, her mother Polish-Jewish ("a potential stage mother") and her father Italian ("an anarchist and a house painter"), who settled in San Francisco. Rainer describes herself as a shy child who liked to read and her childhood as "depressed". At around 15 she started attending socialist-anarchist meetings with her brother where she made friends with some visiting New Yorkers. At 20 Rainer "fell into" acting school at the Theater Arts Colony in San Francisco, but after some frustrations there she moved to New York with a painter, Al Held. There she became involved in the visual arts scene and continued acting classes, now at the Herbert Berghof school where she was told she was "too intellectual" (pp. 49-50). Rainer started full-time training at the Martha Graham School at 25 and danced full-time with the support of her parents, spending her spare time at the Museum of Modern Art watching film classics. She moved on to Merce Cunningham's classes and then became part of an informal collective meeting in the Cunningham studios who would work together and perform for each other.

Rainer became a central figure in the American postmodern dance movement, specifically the New York activity surrounding the venue, Judson Church. Following Merce Cunningham's lead, Judson Dance Theatre was inclusive of artists working in other disciplines. Filmmaking was particularly predominant at Judson Dance Theatre events and Sally Banes describes this area as a "key outgrowth" of the group. A film work, by regular contributor Elaine Summers and others, opened the very first Judson performance and within the series there were other screenings including Brian De Palma's 1963 film, Wotan's Wake (which parodies Maya Deren among other things). Peter Wollen and Vicky Allan have written that experimental filmmakers have always been "interested in analogies between dance and film as kinetic and time-based art forms", and in the case of the '60s and '70s, choreographic and film/video strategies can be discussed as concomitant with the two disciplines informing and elaborating on each other. Along with De Palma, other filmmakers such as Charles Atlas, Shirley Clarke, Amy Greenfield, Doris Chase and Hilary Harris worked with dance and dancers. Rainer ultimately states, however, that her influences were from outside the experimental film scene; that she was familiar with the work of Maya Deren and filmmakers such as Stan Brakhage and Kenneth Anger, but "the ideas didn't really turn me on the way that [John] Cage's ideas in music and '60s art practices had." http://sensesofcinema.com/contents/directors/03/rainer.html

--Heather Richar, 2003

Yvonne Rainer