Editor’s Note: Lately, I’ve been thinking about the aging body and the way illness affects our experience of space, often constricting our range of movement both in the body and in the world. The ordinary tasks of daily life can become significant challenges when the body is weakened by illness, pain or injury, so what happens to the dance? These concerns are at the core of two reflective pieces from the January issue of PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art. In their own ways, seventy-four year old American avant-garde visual artist Carolee Schneemann and seventy-nine year old American dancer, choreographer and filmmaker Yvonne Rainer respond to the predicament of aging in dance — something that each performer-contributor knows firsthand. I’ve excerpted thoughtful passages from their pieces below — you can read the full texts here.
“So when is it time to say ‘farewell to dance?’ When and how must we begin to think of ways to avoid becoming objects of pity or caricature as we attempt to engage movement that is ever — and obviously — more difficult? Traditionally the choreographer/dancer performs alongside younger dancers even as she becomes demonstrably older than the members of her consistently youthful company. The young performers leave and are replaced by similarly youthful dancers while the aging choreographer continues to perform. Merce Cunningham made special solos for himself until withdrawing from the stage. Paul Taylor and Trisha Brown both stopped dancing under physical duress at a certain point while continuing to choreograph. When to leave is a highly personal matter, contingent on will, pleasure and physical fitness, all of which are subject to the decline that inevitably comes with aging.”
From, “The Aching Body in Dance,” Yvonne Rainer.
“Older/aged performers physically embody distractions that have not been codified within Western culture. Obviously, men typically lose their hair, usually women’s hair will thin and if you look closely you will see there is often almost a bald spot at the top of their heads. Women’s breasts have moved down toward their waists and are wrinkled; men’s breasts usually acquire a layer of fat as does their stomach — that ripped statuesque torso has normally lost its definition. Female upper arms almost always have a flabby layer. Many men’s do as well […] For both sexes, their knees will be intensely wrinkled, and unless they exercise consistently ankles weaken, their feet are often invaded by arthritic disturbances.”
From, “Response to a Reappropriation Request,” Carolee Schneemann.