Once it was revolution, now it's history. The show that Mikhail Baryshnikov has brought to Edinburgh tells the story of a great period in American theatre, when a group of young choreographers started making a new kind of dance using Judson Church, Manhattan, as their first base.
Seven of these choreographers are represented here; most of them have shown work in Britain before, but not in this kind of co-operative and historical context. From the 1960s onwards they introduced the concept of everyday movement, experimentation and casual presentation – influences from their real lives. At the time, it must have been shocking. A dancer could think, "What would be interesting to do today? What would be fun? What am I supposed not to do? I'll do it."
Not everyone in their tiny audiences then thought it was fun, but gradually they influenced dance far beyond their own circle.
Thanks to Baryshnikov's willingness to explore Post-modernism, more people now watch these works than ever did when they were new. That's great; we'll all end up knowing how things that we have taken for granted began. But what we can't experience is that initial shock – the alarming originality of it all.
All the same, there are some pretty startling things on display. The sight of David Gordon and Steve Paxton, for instance, showing how to hold the spectator just by making a succession of local non-dancers in street clothes walk across the stage. Or Gordon's amusingly inventive use of chairs to climb on, fall from, roll around.
Then there are the absolutely bizarre, yet fascinating things that Lucinda Childs incorporates in the solo Carnation – the dancer manipulating little plastic rolls into incredible uses, putting on a red sock while balancing on her head, displaying varied moods while walking over plastic bags.
Childs provides an exuberant finale, and Yvonne Rainer produces a whole series of fascinating dances: a talking solo that pretends to be about butterflies, but isn't; a group dance with chairs and pillows; and three incarnations of her trademark, Trio A. They are semi-improvised group dances arranged by Simone Forti – like moving sculpture – an updated old solo, a newish dance by the ingenious Trisha Brown, and a specially made pure dance work by Deborah Hay that looks simpler than it can be.
Much gratitude to Baryshnikov for bringing all this together. Congratulations are in order, too, for he has found a team of dancers who are so good that he, himself looks like just another company member.
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