Mistaken Identities, Part II (The Spoken Lecture)

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Artist and writer Daryl Chin gave this talk on the Judson Dance Theater in Gabriele Brandstetter’s seminar at Freie Universität.  It is amazing.

Still from Yvonne Rainer's FILM ABOUT A WOMAN WHO... (1974)

I want to welcome everybody, and I want to give three facts, three personal facts. In 1963, my family moved to Chatham Square, which is a co-op.  But what that meant was that in the summer of 1962, we could not go away because my parents were saving money to buy the co-op.  So what happened was, I had to stay in the city.  For some reason, I thought it was 1963 that I stayed in the city, but it it turned out it was 1962 because Kennedy was shot in ’63 and we were already living there in Chatham.  In the summer of 1962, I was in the city. I was eight years old, and I went to every movie I could go to.  But I also went to different things in the evening.  Washington Square Park had a lot of concerts.  They had band concerts and outdoor events.  There were two churches.  Washington Square Methodist Church and the Judson Memorial Church.  In July of 1962, I went to a dance concert that was supposed to start at 7 o’clock.  I was supposed to get home by 9:30, so I had to leave by 9 o’clock.  I didn’t know it was going to go on for a while.  Who knew that it was going to be three hours?  That turned out to be historically the first Judson Dance Theater concert.  So that’s the first fact.

The second fact is the summer of 1974.  In the summer of 1974, I had just graduated from Columbia University.  I didn’t have a job, so I was trying to send out my resume, and what happened was that I was talking to different people and Elaine Summers said, “Well, why don’t you come and help me this summer if you don’t have a job?”  I said fine. So two or three days a week I went to her place.  And she had this organization called The Experimental Intermedia Foundation, which was a non-profit organization.  At the time, in 1970, Trisha Brown had started her dance company, but to create a non-profit, it was one of those things that you had to incorporate. You had to do all of these things, so it was always easier to find someone who already had a non-profit, so that you could be umbrella-ed by that organization, as they call it, umbrella.  So the Trisha Brown Dance Company was also a part of the Experimental Intermedia Foundation.

Now, here’s the thing.  This is the summer of 1974.  I wanted to mention that in 1967-68, George Maciunas, who is sort of the person who founded Fluxus, he got this brilliant idea.  There were a lot of buildings that were being abandoned in SoHo, so he started to move in his friends.  I mean, literally, move in his friends.  He was starting to co-op these things, people were buying things.  So people came.  He found this building at 537/541 Broadway and 110/112 Mercer Street.  The thing that was so incredible about it was that there were no pillars.  Just these huge spaces with no pillars.

So immediately he called Simone Forti, who he was very close to. You know, it’s one of these, Oh!  And they called a friend and they called a friend and they called a friend.  Simone moved into the third floor at 537 Broadway.  Jean Dupuy was on the second floor.  Frances Alenikoff, who was a choreographer who did multimedia work, was on the fourth floor, and Elaine Summers was on the fifth floor.  Then on the fifth floor at 541 was Trisha Brown, fourth floor was Lucinda Childs, third floor was Douglas Dunn, and the second floor was David Gordon.  So they all moved into basically the same building.  At 110 Mercer on the fifth floor was Nam June Paik, Shigeko Kubota and at 112 Mercer was the Japanese artist Ay-o.  And also at 110 Mercer was Joan Jonas on the third floor and Yoshi Mato and Barbara Wada was at 112 Mercer.

I spent the summer of 1974 basically on the fifth floor of 537 and 541 Broadway, and there were times when, especially on the weekends, we would do things like just sort of go out, hang out, have dinner, and go to the movies.  And we were: Elaine Summers, Simone Forti, and Trisha Brown.  I should mention that the thing about the building was that it was a circular thing around a courtyard.  The courtyard had all these windows that sort of overlooked each other so that you really could do something like yell across and talk to people.  But the first thing that Lucinda Childs did when she moved in was that she got shades.

February of 1982. What happened was that in the fall of 1981 I was contacted by two friends.  Wendy Perron, who is a dance critic, she is now the editor of Dance Magazine.  At that time she was also a cabinet member of the Trisha Brown Dance Company.  Cynthia Hedstrom, who was then the head of Danspace at St. Mark’s Church on the Bowery, and Cynthia had been a dancer with Lucinda Childs.  They contacted me because Wendy was teaching at Bennington.  Judith Dunn was also teaching at Bennington, and because of that Wendy got this idea to create this thing which was the Bennington-Judson project, and what she did was she tried to track down as many people as possible.  She had all these programs from the Judson Dance Theater–who had performed at Judson and videotaped them, to get information from them, and also if it was a possibility to have her students recreate the work.  So we decided to do this thing, the Judson Dance Theater Reconstructions.  And that happened in February 1982.

Often when you’re in a certain situation, you don’t know the whole picture… So it’s the type of thing where Cynthia and Wendy have an image of the Judson Dance Theater, but they didn’t have a complete image.  In other words, they knew the people that Lucinda Childs knew, or they knew the people that Trisha Brown knew, but they didn’t know the other people that were there.  And there were a lot of other people.  So it was my job to sort of figure out who was in touch with who and to try to get as many people as possible.  We wound up getting about 30 people.  It was really varied, and it was very interesting, and I think it was very successful.  But what happens after that is, and this is the thing: So much of the art, hmmm, shall we say, the art events, of the period of the 1960s, 1970s are really getting very partialized.  At the end of the introduction to the first edition of Visionary Film, P. Adams Sitney wrote that his definition of visionary film only covers a portion of what we would call experimental, avant-garde film activity in the United States since the 1940s.  Then he says that he hopes that other people will explore this very rich territory, very rich material, and will actually look for other filmmakers to investigate.  He cites four: Ed Emshwiller, Stan VanDerBeek, Shirley Clark, and Storm De Hirsch.  Well, unfortunately, I haven’t seen any major studies of these people since P. Adams Sitney wrote his book because nobody has taken the time to look at these things.  And so it’s like, Oh, this is a bad situation.

I figured that one person everyone will know if they study the Judson Dance Theater will be Yvonne Rainer.  So I’ll start with Yvonne.  I’ll do something about her resume, and actually I’ll talk about how it is very partialized in the way that her life has been historicized and theorized, and it also distorts a lot of her work. Not only does it distort it, but it doesn’t explain how her work fits in with other things that were happening at the time, including a lot of things Off Broadway, other dance things, etc.  One thing that I should mention is that when Yvonne Rainer used to have a resume, I don’t know if she still does, she used to always list three dance companies because those were the only dance companies she ever worked with before she started her own choreographic career.  The three dance companies are: Edith Stevens, 1957 – 58.  One of the reasons was that Edith Stevens was not really, shall we say, a major choreographer.  But she was somebody who, because she didn’t really have movement ideas, the way Cunningham had at the time, Sybill Shearer had movement ideas, she allowed a lot of improvisation, which Yvonne totally fit in with.  So that was the first person.  But now the next two are actually really really important.  She always lists of course James Waring and then the Schmidt Blossom Dance Company, which is actually Beverly Schmidt and her husband Robert Blossom, which I’ll get to.

The thing about the James Waring Dance Company was that James Waring was for many many years–it’s the sort of thing where if you said Greenwich Village and dancer, you thought of James Waring and his company.  He was one of those people who did not define a movement style, the way Paul Taylor or Merce Cunningham did, but what he did was, he tried to use as many people as possible in his company, people he thought were wonderful performers even if they couldn’t dance, if they had two left feet, even if they were, as Yvonne said, “a sow’s ear trying to be a silk purse.”  That’s how she described working with James Waring.  The classic example of the company is David Gordon, who was a student going to Brooklyn College.  His girlfriend, also going to Brooklyn College, was a dance student.  She had taken classes with James Waring in Greenwich Village, and he accompanied her. James Waring, he’s sitting there week after week, and he says, “You, come here.”  And he says, “Just run.”  So he runs.  And he says, “OK, I’m doing a dance, and it’s going to be shown in a month.  And you’re in it.”  And that’s how David Gordon got his dance start.

In the case of Yvonne Rainer, how she got to the James Waring Dance Company, and I should mention this because on June 4th of this year at the Judson Church, there was a memorial concert for James Waring.  Two people, Toby Armour and Aileen Passloff, presented some old work and a new piece.  Toby and Aileen were in James Waring’s dance company starting in the mid-’50s.  What happened was, (Yvonne Rainer always talks about it) she went to a concert.  One of the other things James Waring did was he organized concerts so that other people could show their work.  He would organize an event, and he would say, “OK, I’ve heard you’ve choreographed something, so why wouldn’t you do it in this work?”  This is also something Yvonne Rainer always talks about: he had heard of some of the things she had done in the Robert Ellis Dunn class.  And he said, “OK, I heard you did these dances. I think they were Three Satie Spoons to the music of Erik Satie.  He said, “Why don’t you do this?”  He set the date.  He said, “There’s going to be a concert, and you’re going to present.”  And that was it.  That was her first dance presented in New York City.

What happened was a few years before she went to one of these events and saw Aileen Passloff, and she’s always described it as, She didn’t do that much, she was sort of hunched over and ran across the stage.  She took a pencil and started biting it.  She said it was just the strangest thing because they were actions she didn’t consider dance, but they were so powerful and she said it was so female and funny.  And she said, I just have to work with that woman.  So she found out that Aileen Passloff was also in James Waring’s dance company, so she started taking classes with James Waring.  And James Waring looked at her and said, Oh.  He just liked the way she looked.  And he asked her to be a part of his dance company, which just floored her.

One of the things about James Waring was that his work was very theatrical.  He also did things that were like plays. I mean literally plays, even though they were dances.  He would work with poets.  Diane di Prima, Kenneth Koch, various other poets, and they often would write dialogue for texts that people read. He would work with artists, I mean artists like Al Hansen, Red Grooms, and other people who created sets for him and costumes.  He also worked with musicians, not in the way that Cunningham did, who was trying to divorce the music from the dance.  It was like no, they developed the scores together. John Herbert McDowell, Malcolm Goldstein were others.  They were all semi-plays, and they had all these people in it.  So at one time, James Waring’s dance company included Toby Armour, Aileen Passloff, Remy Charlip, who also of course was one of the original people in Merce Cunnigham’s company, and Freddie Herko, Eddie Barton, Deborah Hay, Lucinda Childs, David Gordon, and Yvonne Rainer.

One of the reasons I bring this up is because everyone knows that there is this thing that Yvonne wrote, which is the end of an article that she wrote for The Drama Review, “Parts of Some Sextets,” and it’s called even online or whatever, I looked it up, the “No Manifesto,” no to theatricality, no to… All of which is like, well, I wouldn’t say that, because up until probably 1965, just as an example, there’s “no to seduction of the spectator by the wiles of the performer.”  And it’s like yeah, well, I don’t think by taking off your clothes you’re not seducing the performer.  And Yvonne Rainer was one of those people who liked to be naked.  A lot.  There are at least five of her early dances in which she’s wearing no clothes.  One of them is Words Words, and there’s a very famous picture of her.  She and Steve Paxton, it was a duet.  They’re both naked, except of course you can’t be naked in New York City, so he had what was called posing strap, and she had those pasties that you put on that had tassels.  Picture that with tassels, you know the kind that strippers use.  I don’t think that if you’re wearing what strippers wear you’re not not trying to seduce the audience.

Everybody knows that there’s this famous dance class that became the Judson Dance Theater, which is Robert Ellis Dunn’s class.  I should say that the precursor in New York City to this class was John Cage’s New School class, from 1958 -1960, and that was a class where people who wanted to be musicians came.   Jackson Maclow, La Monte Young, Philip Corner, Malcolm Goldstein, Dick Higgins.  Oh God, a lot of people.  Al Hansen took that class, even though he was a painter, but he took the class.  And then it was one of those things where a lot of people from other places came to take the class too.  One of those people was of course Yoko Ono.

How this relates to 537/541 Broadway was that Fluxus started because when George Maciunis was living with Yoko, Fluxus became his way of trying to promote Yoko.  It was like you’d have a classroom of all these different people, and then you’d always have Yoko on the bill.  So Fluxus got started with George Maciunis’ obsession with Yoko Ono.

Robert Dunn’s class.  He had been an assistant to John Cage for the Cunningham Company, and often he played piano, Robert Dunn.  And his wife Judith was one of the people who was part of the original Merce Cunningham Dance Company.  Along with Viola Farber, Carolyn Brown, and Remy Charlip.  This happened about 1953 – 54, maybe earlier, but the point is that Robert started teaching his class, and originally it was only seven people who came, two of them being Yvonne Rainer and Steve Paxton.  Another one was this dancer named Marni Mahaffy.  I know that Sally Banes in her book Democracy’s Body has sort of talked about this set of people.  But what happened was that people began to, look, it’s like this: people didn’t have television.  I mean, in the late ’50s, early ’60s, a lot of artists didn’t have television.  They just didn’t have television, so what were they going to do?

People began to do things like events.  Like on Monday nights, there’s this thing.  This sort of class that Robert Dunn teaches, so at that time, before she hooked up with Robert Morris and after she divorced Al Held, one of the people that Yvonne Rainer was going with was Phil Horner.  So Phillip started coming to the Robert Dunn classes.  And Simone Forti had come from California, and she was accompanied by her husband, Robert Morris.  And James Tenney, a composer, was a very close friend of Robert Morris, and his wife, Carollee Schneemann, they would often accompany Yvonne and Phil, and they would show up at Robert Dunn’s class.  It was a social thing. People just started coming.  One of the things about it was that Robert Dunn always said that he never tried to tell people exactly what to do, but that they were just general frameworks. Time.  This that the other thing. How much space.  What was always was amazing, at least he said, was that some people just didn’t think like anybody else.  The person that he really said this about was Simone Forti.  He said, you never knew what she would come up with.  For example, as an instruction, OK, we’re doing a ten minute dance. Come in with a ten minute dance.  She comes in and she says, I have a dance, and I will read it.  And so for ten minutes she reads.  And it’s like, well, it’s an action, and she just had these ideas.  Nobody ever knew how she got these ideas really, but she was pretty amazing at that time.

Many of you who know of the screenplays I’m working on. Let’s put it this way: Simone always thought that her lot in life was going to be that she’d be somebody’s wife and mother.  For example, when the Judson Dance Theater started in 1962, she had already married Robert Whitman, and he decided that he didn’t want his wife performing her own work.  He only wanted her to perform in his work.  And she did.  So, uh, not gonna get into that one.

The other thing that is hard to explain to people is shifting alliances.   For example, Lucinda Childs had been a student at Sarah Lawrence where she studied with Bessie Schoenberg, and two years later another girl from Sarah Lawrence, who was studying with Bessie Schoenberg also had this idea of, Oh, I want to go downtown and hang out with the people there.  And that was Meredith Monk.  I say this because in the ’60s, initially, Lucinda is not the most outgoing person I’ve ever met, so she really had a group of friends.  The friends she really hung out with initially, she was not part of the, what Shigeko Kubota later laughingly called Rauschenberg’s babies.  She wasn’t a part of the Rauschenberg group. Actually she hung out with Arlene Rothlein, and also Freddie Herko, who were also people in James Waring’s company.  Freddie Herko was very famous for any of you who know about Warhol, because he was the first of the Warhol superstars who died.  In 1964, he was the person who was on speed and decided to go out the window.  Before anybody could stop him he literally went out the window.  So that’s Freddie Herko.  After that, Lucinda really became withdrawn, but then Yvonne Rainer and Steve Paxton sort of had her join their group and sort of go out with them and see things.  So that’s how that happened.  But before that she was also the girl who Warhol initially was really fascinated with because she was from a very well-to-do WASP family and was sort of a semi-socialite. He wanted her to be his sort of first superstar.  But she was really resistant.  So the only actual film he ever did of her was Lucinda Childs’ shoulders.  That’s it.  He got to film her shoulders.  She wouldn’t do a screen test with her face.  I don’t know whether that’s art or not, but that’s what happened.  Because then he would find of course Edie Sedgwick, and the rest, as they say, is history.

As I said, in Robert Dunn’s class, a lot of the people began to bring in other people, so there were painters and sculptors and musicians.  One of the points I wanted to make about the way this whole history gets distorted, and I use P. Adam Sitney’s Visionary Film as an example, is that starting in 1969 –  1970, Rosalind Krauss and Annette Michelson were writing a lot about what we now call minimal art.  They were writing about Donald Judd, Richard Serra, Robert Morris, and so on.  And they were theorizing about their work, which wasn’t too hard because Donald Judd and Robert Morris, etcetera, were theorizing themselves. What they did was also align it with, as they said, “The new sculpture is aligned with the new dance.”  They would write about what they envision this dance to be.  It was one of those situations where if you haven’t actually seen it, but you’re trying to write about it, and you’re theorizing from, shall we say, written evidence, and the evidence of things is, for example, Yvonne Rainer’s “No Manifesto,” you’re getting a distorted idea.

Let me put it this way.  Around 1965, Yvonne Rainer did a piece called, We Shall Run, which really consisted of people running in a whole bunch of patterns to music.  I think the music was Berlioz Requiem.  But the point is that if you read about it, you think, yes, this is about running in place, running in pattern, etc., but don’t forget that the people she asked to be in her piece were people like Sally Gross, Judith Dunn, Deborah Hay, in other words, people who were very much trained dancers. So the actual effect of the work is more like Esplanade, which is a Paul Taylor piece, which is simply movements of running and jumping to Bach music.  That’s the thing.  If you’ve seen it, you say, Oh, that’s the connection to Paul Taylor.  But if you haven’t seen it, you’re thinking Oh, these are just people running.  But they’re not people just running. They are dancers running.  It’s very different.

If you look at it, quite frankly, Yvonne is no fool.  She knows, as she has said, if you want publicity, you go and you get the person who can give you more publicity. You have Robert Rauschenberg in your work because you know all these art people, Oh my God, they’re going to come to it.  So she asked Robert Morris and Robert Rauschenberg, but she always asked people who were dancers to be in her work.  She didn’t really deviate until after 1967 from people who were trained dancers.  For example, in Parts of Some Sextets, which is the piece where at the end she puts the “No Manifesto,” she talked about getting the cast together.  Part of the thing was moving a series of mattresses back and forth through the thing, and then piling them up.  But all the people were dancers except for Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Morris.  Joseph Schlichter was in it because she had asked Trisha Brown who was… Trisha Brown’s husband, and he was actually a dancer.  He had done Broadway. He was actually a dancer in several Broadway shows.  So you have these people who are trained dancers.  You’re not dealing with “ordinary people,” like Steve Paxton, who really did want to take out dance from dance and really did want to use ordinary people.  He did and so did Deborah Hay.  And the reason that’s very interesting is because of all the people in the Judson Dance Theater group, Steve Paxton was the most trained, and shall we say, “the best dancer,” literally.  He had come to New York because he had been working with people  in college who had worked with the Jose Limon Company, and he came as a Jose Limon dancer.  After he worked with Limon, he was studying, and Merce Cunningham asked him to be a part of the company.  So this was someone who was really a good dancer.  So he decided to do away with dance. Dance is artificial.

So why do people get the wrong idea?  Because a lot of this information is coming second hand and third hand.  At this point, people say, Oh, Sally Banes’ book, and then there have been articles by people like Douglas Crimp about Yvonne Rainer.  Well, none of them actually saw Yvonne perform when she was actually performing.  Both Sally Banes and Douglas Crimp were students of Annette Michelson, who also never saw Yvonne Rainer perform.  So it’s the sort of thing where it’s like, wow, this is getting to be like traces, ghostly.  You’re getting to the point where a myth is being built up. And then why don’t people say that’s not really what happened?  Well, it’s because people have egos.

Nobody’s going to say, oh wait, you’re theorizing and it’s all wrong.  They’re going to say, oh, isn’t that nice.  There’s an expression: Hoist with your own petard.  And honey, all of these people have such petards you would believe it.

One of the things that happened with the Judson Dance Theater Reconstructions was that we had over 30 people who were able to recreate their work.  Some people refused.  Trisha Brown at the time refused.  One of the reasons was that she was well into her first decade of her own dance company, doing all of these things that started with accumulation, and she didn’t want to recreate any of those things like the room game or walking down the side of the building, all of these things where people weren’t really dancing, they were just moving within certain constrictions.  Another person who said nooooo, I mean practically bit our heads off, was Robert Morris.  He did not want to reconstruct anything.  Lucinda Childs reconstructed Carnation.  Her point was: get me to do it before I can’t do a handstand anymore.  Her work after 1969 was very different.  Her work became an issue of pure movement.  Before that, her work wasn’t, it was very theatrical.  She was in James Waring’s company and was very influenced by him.  She created these little characters.  Carnation is a performance where she’s this addled housewife.  She does everything wrong.  She uses the colander except she uses it on her head.  She takes a whole bunch of sponges.  She makes a sandwich of sponges and then she bites on it.  It was very funny.  The thing is that was her work before.  One of her most famous pieces was actually only done within the framework of Robert Dunn’s workshop.  What she did was, she left the tape recorder, she said, give me five minutes.  She put on the tape recorder and it said, “Go to the window!”  Everybody went to the window, at which point she was on the other side of the street, where she did a whole travelogue thing, where she pointed out this is this store.  And she did this whole movement, and she went across the street describing things as she went.

The other thing I should mention is that the workshop started in 1960 – 61, and it basically ended by 1965, but by 1964, a lot of people were starting to come in from overseas. Two people from Japan that everybody remembered was Suzushi Hanayagi, who later became very famous as a sort of classical Japanese dancer.  The other one was Cheiko Shiomi.  Rosemary Butcher arrived in New York a few years before that to study really with Graham.  She had taken classes at Cunningham, and she had heard about this workshop.   And when it started, she had just become part of it.  So all of these people were there.  It became sort of international because a lot of people began to come from overseas, and then they would go back and try to sort of recreate the ideas being discussed and embodied in these workshops.

One of the things we were able to do with the Judson Dance Theater Reconstructions was on Saturday afternoon, from noon to 4pm, Robert Ellis Dunn taught his last workshop in New York City at the event.  A lot of people went.  A lot of the people who were then, sort of the whole collaborative idea, a lot of people who were at that time in Movement Research came and took that workshop. I couldn’t because if you’re running the program it’s very hard.  There was a program Thursday and Friday and then another program on Saturday and Sunday, so I sort of sat in on things a little, and then I would rush out.

The thing that drove me crazy in later years, was that I would try to get him to sit down and write a book about dance, composition, his ideas.  And he never really wanted to do that.  Never.  He kept saying he would do it, and then came another little letter with a few little notes, and I said, well, do you want to write the whole thing?  And I would suggest things like, why don’t you use a tape recorder and I’ll try to transcribe it?  No, not really, wasn’t going to happen.  So that was unfortunate.  But we did become really good friends.  It was interesting, too.  Another person with whom I became close friends but who didn’t get to take the workshop was Kenneth King. At the same time we became very good friends with Robert Dunn, and we stayed good friends until he died in 1996.

One of the things he stressed was that there was never any one way of doing anything, which also meant that even though this whole sort of movement was supposed to be centered on the idea of ordinary movement, task-performance, etc., that actually that wasn’t the case and he had no problem with, shall we say, trained dancers doing their own dance, just as long as they didn’t try to fit themselves into a very prescribed format.  A lot of people worked with Martha Graham, and they would go and sort of do sub-Graham work. You go around the world and you see people who, there are teachers who have studied with Graham, so you’re seeing in places like the Phillipines, or Japan, or Mexico, these sub-Graham dancers, which is supposed to be modern.  And it’s really horrifying.

His idea was that everyone should find a way to work that would free their creativity, so that you didn’t have to do what everybody else did. One of the things that I remember about that workshop was that a lot of people had come in with preconceptions.  For example, this whole bunch of people who had worked with Simone Forti, Pooh Kaye, Yoshiko Chuma (The School of Hard Knocks) and David Appel.  They had an idea of what the class would be, and he kept trying to figure out ways to say, “This is what you’re expecting, so this is not what we’re going to do.”  In a way to drive people crazy, but in another way so you were always off-balance, so that you always had a way to think there was something bigger to do.  And that was his aim.

We’re getting near the end.  I wanted to stress that, here’s the thing.  If you are going to study the Judson Dance Theater, the point is that a lot of the people are still alive.  I don’t know how much longer, but they’re still alive.  For example, in one very early article in the 1970s about Yvonne Rainer, there were a bunch of photographs of her pieces, and I was really appalled because it’s like, oh, they were able to identify Robert Rauschenberg and Trisha Brown.  And then there were two people: they put unidentified and unidentified.  The two people turned out to be Judith Dunn and Sally Gross.  And it was like, excuse me!?  At that time, Judith was still alive. She died not too long ago.  Actually, Bill Dixon died just two weeks ago.  He was a jazz musician.  Starting in 1969, he and Judith Dunn always collaborated.  She was always working with live music.

This is another thing people don’t understand.  People think it was a very homogeneous group, and it actually wasn’t.  People work a lot with outside, and alot of other things happened.  One person who is very important in the early days was Carla Blank.  One of the reasons she was very important was because she was really an organizational person.  She would organize the concerts.  She would say, “OK, Let’s see what we’re going to present at the next concert. Who has a piece?”  And then she would say, OK, it’s gonna be two hours, and she would sign this and that.  She was very organizational.

In 1965, her husband got a job teaching in Portland, OR.  That’s where she found love.  And her husband happens to be Ishmael Reed, the African-American novelist.  So it’s the type of thing where if you don’t know all these things, Judith Dunn and Bill Dixon, the jazz musician who is also African-American.  There were a lot of different people.  It was very varied.  It may not be that everybody was dancing.  But if you went to the concerts there were a lot of people. By a lot of people I mean there were black people, Asian people. You’d see a lot of different people in the pieces.  That’s something you don’t get the flavor of.  That’s a very important thing because during the 1980s, during the culture wars, there was a lot of, shall we say, contention about what people call the avant-garde.  People would say, oh, it’s so exclusive.  Chris Choi for example, who’s a documentary filmmaker, once she made this comment: “Video art, that’s a white people thing.”  And it’s like white people?  Excuse me.  Nam June Paik is usually credited as the father of video art.  I didn’t know Nam June changed his color.  It’s like who are these people? They always got really fierce in those days, especially during grant cycles.

I hated being in this position because I always knew that I was the person who was there because I was the non-white person who would always stick around for the after party.  It’s like, well, you get assigned a role, and that was mine.

I think we’re almost finished, so I will end with (sort of) three stories.

So we’re all waiting in the lobby in the Brooklyn Academy of Music for some Robert Wilson extravaganza.  Two nights before that at American Ballet Theater was As Time Goes By at the theater.  Whoever was the assistant to the person who was running… Was it Margie Wittgenstein who was running the Brooklyn Academy of Music?  This woman was his assistant, and I knew that, so she went over to Twyla Tharp and she said, “Oh, Twyla!  I just saw As Time Goes By, and I loooovved it!  Oh and Twyla, it’s so short, it’s not fair.”  And Twyla gives her a look and says, “I’m not fair, honey, life’s not fair.”

The second story is at the memorial for Robert Dunn.  See, what happened, especially during the eighties, a lot of times, for example the Festival d’Automne in Paris, had a thing where they invited Yvonne Rainer and Trisha Brown and David Gordon to participate, sort of this whole Judson Dance Theater whatever.  And they had asked if they wanted to have someone who was a critic or commentator to speak about the Judson Dance Theater.  Trisha and Yvonne suggested Annette Michelson.  I knew that that Robert Dunn was hurt by this because he was like, how come nobody is asking me?  What am I?  At the memorial, Yvonne said this, and I remember very clearly, she said that if there was ever a person she ever wanted the approval of, it was Robert Dunn.  She said she wasn’t the only one.  She knew that everyone else felt that way.  Then she said that maybe we neglected him.  I’m really sorry that he felt that way, but he should have known that it wasn’t just that we respected him.  And she said, he should have known that we loved him, and that we wouldn’t have any careers without him because he was the person that really inspired us.  So that’s what she said.  Of course he’s dead but what can you do?

And then there’s a third story.  Starting around 1969, as I said Rosalind Krauss and Annette Michelson started writing about minimal sculpture, minimal art, and they often aligned the new sculpture with the new dance. They talked about the principles of task-performance and so on and so forth.  And they always would talk about Yvonne Rainer.  They always had the same list of people: Yvonne Rainer, Trisha Brown, Steve Paxton. Never David Gordon, which was probably right because he was very different.  He still, to this day, was very much influenced by James Waring.  He really had dialogue in his dances.  Lucinda Childs, and of course, Simone Forti.   In 1976, the Dia Art Foundation did a whole series of pieces, a sort of retrospective of the work of Robert Whitman, and so I’m there, Larry’s there, (Larry, he’s my partner) with friends.  So at the end of one piece, we’re standing there talking to a really good friend, and Annette Michelson comes barrelling through, because standing right next to us is Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Wilson, so she basically runs over and practically knocks down the person I’m talking to.  And I realized, Oh my God, she doesn’t know who the fuck this woman is!  So she’s talking to Robert Rauschenberg, she’s talking to Robert Wilson, and I go, Annette!  This is before we were neighbors, by the way. I moved into 141 Wooster Street in 1980.  This is 1976.  1980 on the sixth floor.  Guess who else was on the sixth floor?  Anyway, so I was like, “Annette!”  She goes, “Yes.”  How this broad from Brooklyn ever got this highfalutin’ British accent, I don’t know.  And I said, “Annette, I’d like to introduce you to somebody.”  And she goes, “Oh really, who?”  And I go, “Simone Forti!”

So these are the three messages:

1.  Life may not be fair, but things like the Judson Dance Theater actually tried to make things a little more egalitarian, so that people who were really trained dancers, like Steve Paxton, or almost untrained dancers like David Gordon, could find a place to be choreographers.

2.  Yvonne Rainer’s statement, what I mean is that, if you’re going to investigate it, don’t just go in the prescribed way.  Don’t just be like Douglas Crimp and Sally Banes, in other words, getting your information from Annette Michelson and Rosalind Krauss who didn’t see these things.  Try to find a way to reach out.  Look for other sources.  And not only that, because what you’ll find is a lot of these people are still around.  And not only that, but they’re really nice.  You’ll have a great time knowing them.  You’ll have a great time meeting them, talking to them.  It’s like Yvonne said, you won’t just get information, you’ll get love!

3.  The third point was: Listen, don’t be one of those researchers who’s going to knock over Simone Forti to get to Robert Rauschenberg.

DARYL CHIN is an artist and writer living in Brooklyn; from October 2009 to July 2010, he was a Fellow at the International Research Center: Interweaving Performance Cultures at the Freie Universität Berlin.

Mistaken Identities, Part I (co-author: Larry B. Qualls) was a lecture given at the Performing Tangier 2010 Conference: New Perspectives on Site Specific Art in Arabo-Islamic Contexts in May 2010.