On Monday, the Whitney Humanities Center hosted choreographer Yvonne Rainer for a lecture on dance, science and the humanities.
Focusing on the relationship between science and art, “Innovation in Dance: Back and Forth with Yvonne Rainer” was the latest installment of the Shulman Lectures in Science and the Humanities. The talk was held in conjunction with a seminar entitled, “The Physics of Dance,” which is taught by Emily Coates ’06 GRD ’11, Yale’s director of dance studies, and Sarah Demers, an associate professor of physics at Yale. Like Rainer’s lecture, the seminar takes an interdisciplinary approach to the study of physics and dance, seeking to understand how two seemingly disparate fields can actually influence one another. In line with the course’s emphasis on the importance of understanding the scientific concepts that underlie movements in dance, Rainer’s lecture discussed the relationship between the scientific method and dance as a “form of research.”
“Young dancers do some sort of research, learning what their bodies can do,” Rainer said. “I was not an inherently talented dancer, so I knew I had to make something that had not been seen before.”
The lecture opened with a projection of dances recorded in the 1960s by Rainer and other colleagues, in which “the bodies themselves become objects,” Rainer said. She then demonstrated combinations and series of simple gestures, such as leaning forward or putting her fingers in her mouth — the type of movements that form the basis of her innovative and unconventional choreographic style.
Coates said Rainer’s approach brought about tremendous change in the dance world.
“Her work offers one of the finest examples of research methods in dance in the 20th century,” Coates said. “In a move similar to Einstein’s in physics, Rainer redirected the field of dance.”
Mary Chandler Gwin ’18, who attended Rainer’s lecture and is enrolled in “The Physics of Dance,” said she was most intrigued by the choreographer’s discussions of the differences between art and science. Rainer suggested that the two areas diverge especially in science’s perpetual search for “proof,” a goal that art — with its “much more nebulous standard of success” — does not share.
“The conversation that stuck with me the most from last night is the value [and] perception of value in regards to art and science,” Gwin noted. “Yvonne Rainer discussed how in science you can prove — or, as Dr. Demers likes to say, ‘disprove’ — certain phenomena and have ‘successes,’ like the [discovery of] gravitational waves. In art there is hardly any objective success … Each audience member perceives the work differently and therefore a variety of values are assigned to the work.”