Renegades and Radical Bodies in 3 New York Exhibitions

Rauschenberg, like Ms. Halprin and Ms. Kawakubo, was never afraid of bad taste. You might say that these three, collectively, have a philosophy that holds when something seems right, it’s probably wrong. So do the opposite.

Just as Rauschenberg didn’t pay attention to artistic categories — he was a painter, photographer, collagist, sculptor and even at times a dancer and choreographer — Ms. Halprin turned against the practice of inventing and maintaining a codified dance technique. Instead, she focused on improvisational methods, dancing in the natural world and using dance as a healing tool.

For “Radical Bodies,” three curators — Ninotchka D. Bennahum, Wendy Perron and Bruce Robertson — teamed up to show how postmodern dance, which developed in the 1960s in New York, didn’t happen by magic on the East Coast. Its roots were planted by Ms. Halprin in California and allowed to grow with the help of two of her students, Ms. Forti and Ms. Rainer.

“Radical Bodies” feels less like a conventional exhibition than a story illustrated with objects. Photographs bring the past to life and videos dance on the walls in this presentation of ideas born out of a fateful meeting: In 1960, Ms. Forti and Ms. Rainer attended a workshop with Ms. Halprin, held on her now-famous open-air dance deck in Marin County, California.

The setting is crucial. For Ms. Halprin, nature is a partner. As Ms. Perron noted in a joint interview with Ms. Bennahum, “On her deck, the trees are moving.”

For Ms. Bennahum, “It feels like a very intimate theater, except for that rather than walls, you have trees — and sky.”

Soon after that 1960 workshop, Ms. Forti and Ms. Rainer found themselves in New York. Ms. Forti began to show her “Dance Constructions,” works based on ordinary movement and objects like plywood boards; and Ms. Rainer went on to become a founder of the experimental dance collective Judson Dance Theater.

It’s easy to see how the dance artists of the 1960s were radical. But Ms. Kawakubo and Rauschenberg are part of the conversation, too. You try things out. You fail. You start over. And sometimes, an ordinary body breaks the rules: It becomes radical.


Anna Halprin’s “Ceremony of Us,” with the San Francisco Dancers’ Workshop and dancers from James Woods’s Studio Watts, 1969.

Susan Landor

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