VQFF 2015: Feelings Are Facts illuminates modern dance's debt to Yvonne Rainer

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      Feelings Are Facts: The Life of Yvonne Rainer (USA)

      Do you enjoy watching a person folding their laundry? How about someone moving a mattress?

      Iconoclast choreographer Yvonne Rainer did. And her resolve to place pedestrian movement centre stage turned the world of modern dance on its head—not to mention various other positions.

      Yet her name may not be as well-known or celebrated as the likes of Martha Graham, Alvin Ailey or Twyla Tharp. Jack Walsh's documentary champions the case that she should be.

      As noted by observers, Rainer was a professional provocateur who put theory into action. She was not without humour (the film opens with her boldly declaration that "Statistics show that lesbians are chronic late returners of library books") and neither is this film.

      Feelings Are Facts provides an in-depth and comprehensive overview of Rainer's lifelong work that also serves as an informative perspective on the evolution of American modern dance.

      Influenced by choreographer Merce Cunningham and musician John Cage (whose avant garde works garnered them the reputation of being cultural pariahs), Rainer, the film informs us through interviews with Rainer, cultural commentators, quotes from reviews, and archival footage, integrated everyday motions to challenge and rebel against theatrical traditions and conventional dance ideologies.

      In her often minimalist work (which frequently proved to be intellectually challenging), she paired banal gestures with formal music, challenged the idea of dance as entertainment, used pornographic films as backdrops, and asked dancers to individuate their movements from the music. Dance became a study of the impact of movement on the body that rocked audiences—needless to say, not without controversy and debate.

      Her feminist leanings also fuelled her work as a filmmaker. When she came out later in life as a lesbian after many unhappy relationships with men, she continued to challenge conventions by exploring such then-uncharted territory as mastectomies and the sexuality of older women.

      Where Feelings Are Facts falls short is a late introduction to her somewhat rushed biography of her atypical upbringing and family, after a lengthy exploration of her work as an adult. This shortcoming betrays the film's subtitle, as the documentary is more about her work rather than her life.

      With DIY performances having become ubiquitous in popular culture (even choreography in hipster music videos like Feist's "My Moon My Man" and OK Go's performance pieces may owe debt to her work), this documentary serves as essential viewing for not only dance aficionados, but for those seeking an illuminating example of how postmodern artists were instrumental in "opening up the palace gates of high art".

      Feelings Are Facts: The Life of Yvonne Rainer screens on August 17 (7 p.m.) at International Village as part of the Vancouver Queer Film Festival.

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