Enjoyment in the doing: Yvonne Rainer’s Chair Pillow

Chair/Pillow. Photo by Stephanie Matthews.

Chair/Pillow. Photo by Stephanie Matthews.

There is nothing extravagant about Yvonne Rainer’s Chair Pillow. No high legs or triple pirouettes.  No embellishment or stylization. Importance is allotted in the task and the task alone.

The piece requires but three materials; the chair, the pillow, and the dancers.  Performed to Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High,” the dancers appear to have no dependent relationship with the music. Instead, the performer remains neutral, in composure and expression, lifting and dropping the pillow as he or she sits and stands before, on top of, and beside their assigned chair. Yvonne Rainer presents the dancer with the immense task of being, simply, ordinary.

The performative aspect of the dance lives solely within the realm of the task.  As dancers, we perform not performing. In such absence, we are confronted with ourselves purely as people. The choreography is stripped of any movement that might even minutely allude to extremism, indulgence, athleticism, or emotive nuance. The dance asks that we, as performers, attune our innate role as human beings. People with the task of reorienting the pillow in association with and proximity to both the chair and ourselves. Repetitively and indifferently.

Initially, I found this way of performing daunting. Executing with a sincere presence of complete objectivity proved difficult, perhaps bland. It meant exploring genuine efficiency. Efficiency of both movement and energy.  An exploration in what it is to be a pedestrian.  A study of ordinariness.

Often, or merely in my exposure to dance, it seems that we try with such vigor to be anything but ordinary.  As a culture, we are seemingly so impressed with unparalleled flexibility and high extension, with gravity-defying jumps and endless turns, that we overlook the significance of the unexceptional.

It appears we are ceaselessly unsatisfied. We want to be “wowed,” always desiring bigger and better.

Although an admirable quality and much of the reason that as a race, we have managed such unimagined progress, it is through this very lens, a manipulated expectation in viewing the world, that we fail to see wonder in things as they exist directly before us. In our constant hunger to embellish, we fail to see wonder in things as they are.

Rainer seemed to have wanted to distort our movement priorities and possibly, cultivated perceptions of the 1960s. In a world immersed in expressive qualities, she desired function.  And thus, she presented something totally radical: the dance, reduced to its essential action.

Learning this dance has provided me a new awareness. I catch myself watching the grocer bag my conveyer of highly processed foods, the police officer standing at the intersection waving on impatient traffic, or even, the tall man who always puffs a carefully lit cigarette on the same hidden bench.

There is an overwhelming beauty in the everyday. It is liberating to momentarily strip oneself of appearances and decoration.  To be free from the laborious effort to impress.  To know wonder and greatness in mere existence. To find enjoyment in the doing.