The Yvonne Rainer Project at the BFI

Tuesday, 30 November, 2010

Dance on Film – until 23 January 2011

From the Yvonne Rainer Project

It was a bitterly cold night on the Embankment, a kind of night that reminded me of that old cigarette advertisement, the one that concluded: ‘You’re never alone with a Strand.’ Struggling across Hungerford bridge with the wind tugging at my hat, while an oily brown Thames slid by beneath wasn’t at all appropriate as a precursor of what was to follow, beyond the freezing stallholders of the South Bank’s Christmas Fair and of no interest whatever to the skateboarding show-offs beneath the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

I was on my way to the preview of the Yvonne Rainer Project, an exhibit (free to enter and it’s on now) at the BFI’s Gallery – that space right at the back, to the left of the ticket desk, where arty things get shown to the real aficionados of film, and the darkness means often that health and safety is a concept of the past.

Yvonne Rainer is a giant of dance (if you believe the press releases), a legendary American dancer, choreographer and filmmaker, whose example is amongst the most influential on today’s generation of video makers and choreographers alike. This exhibition features three of Rainer’s works in the BFI Gallery and is accompanied by screenings of her seven feature films to be shown in the BFI cinemas. There is also a curated programme of the artist’s works taking place in December.

Watch out for the film in the little round gallery (the first space you are confronted with). There’s only comfortable space for four inside – the reason being that the BFI probably can’t afford any more chairs on casters, and that’s what you’ll need to watch this element of the exhibition, because the video projection moves round that circular wall – to watch it, you have to be permanently on the move. All this is fine if you are sitting on one of those special chairs. If not, best to don your shin pads immediately, and prepare to leap as that projection swings around.

The Yvonne Rainer Project is curated by Chantal Pontbriand, and concentrates on the transformation of ideas in her work, such as those of choreographers Vaslav Nijinsky and George Balanchine, composer Igor Stravinsky, thinkers such as Ludwig Wittgenstein and Sigmund Freud, and filmmaker Georg Wilhelm Pabst.

Names like those are redolent of my time at university and my pal Danny McLagan dozing peacefully on my shoulder. He always said that ideas made him sleepy. Perhaps that’s why he left to become a banker.

Among those attending is Alexis Stevens from Dance UK, choreographer Maddy Wynne-Jones, Lynsey Winship from Time Out, Denise Horsley and student Catherine Wood. I wish I had more time to watch. There’s a lot of substance here. The two main auditoriums have screenings lasting 45 minutes each, and there’s another space, the Atrium, showing her first feature film, Lives of Performers, from 1972.

(c) Brent Crude 2010


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