Returning to Live Performance After a Decade
In March 1977, the filmmaker Robert Gardner, then director of Harvard’s Center of Film Studies, hosted the groundbreaking choreographer, filmmaker, and artist Yvonne Rainer on a Boston-area public television show called Screening Room. Rainer was there to discuss her recent film Kristina Talking Pictures (1976). By way of introduction, Gardner rather drolly announces to the viewers (Rainer near him at the table in the studio) that “we’re going to see part of what I consider to be a long and baffling film.” Shortly thereafter, Gardner, perhaps irritable or perhaps simply having been in sub-par form that day, announces to Rainer’s face that, “I happen to think that Kristina Talking Pictures doesn’t show much evidence of you having been a dancer.”
“It was incredibly awkward,” the artist Andrea Kleine told me recently over coffee. “You get the impression the host didn’t really give a shit about this film. She’s put in this really awkward situation.”
That awkwardness is perhaps one of the reasons this bizarre and frankly obscure interview about one of Rainer’s lesser known films came to form the basis of Kleine’s own return to performance after nearly a decade’s absence, with Screening Room, or, The Return of Andrea Kleine (as revealed through a re-enactment of a 1977 television program about a ‘long and baffling’ film by Yvonne Rainer.), which plays the Chocolate Factory Theater this week.
After entering NYU to study theater, Kleine’s interest in interdisciplinary performance moved her to the Experimental Theater Wing, from which she graduated only to move on to working as a dancer-for-hire and a performance maker more associated with dance than theater. Through 2003, her work appeared regularly on New York stages.
“I reached that circuit—PS122, the Kitchen, Danspace, the former Dance Theater Workshop. You just sort of go in circles,” she told me, “one year here, one year there, and there was nowhere else to go.”
So she dropped out.
Since 2003, Kleine’s virtually disappeared from the performance scene, concentrating on various writing projects. There was a brief interlude with a piece she collaborated on in 2007’s The Separation with drummer/composer Bobby Previte, which played the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis. She completed a draft of an as-yet unpublished novel, and began blogging about dance and performance at The Dancers Will Win. Then in 2010, Kleine began dipping her toe in the water again.
First there was the ongoing Memoirs project, in which Kleine presented conceptual re-stagings of her works through installations in which her original collaborators take part via video chat. In 2011, she presented Rationality, a verbatim re-enactment of a call-in philosophy talk-show that aired in 1992 on local TV in Arlington, Virginia, performed in her living room. The Chocolate Factory’s curator Brian Rogers—already familiar with Kleine’s work—happened to see Rationality, leading to an ongoing dialogue between the two that culminates in Kleine’s return to the performance space for the first time in eleven years.
“It’s weird to go back to performing and I have a tremendous amount of anxiety about it,” Kleine said near the beginning of our conversation. “Especially about myself performing—stage anxiety—which I never had before. It’s really for not doing it for so long.”
The story of why Kleine abandoned performance is, as the name of her new piece suggests, part of the subject of her show. Using verbatim segments Rainer’s ’77 appearance on Screening Room as a framing device, Kleine and her collaborators Anya Liftig, Bobby Previte, Michael Kammers, Paul Langland, and Vicky Shick, produced a movement-and-text based work using Rainer’s Kristina Moving Pictures “as a sort of departure point.”
“I borrowed some of its concepts as organizing principles of the piece,” Kleine said of Rainer’s film, cautioning that they were not actually performing any of its elements. “It’s interesting because it’s not widely discussed. A few pieces in the middle aren’t written about much. There are a couple in the middle—Kristina Talking Pictures and Journeys from Berlin—that were, in my non-scholarly opinion, these crossover films.”
Relying on the ambivalence that Rainer, undergoing a vision shift as a filmmaker, implanted into her film, Kleine has built out a live performance documentary reflecting the tensions that led her to leave performance and now return. These sequences are in turn interrogated by the selections of Gardner and Rainer’s bizarre, passive-aggressive interview.
Asked what, in particular, made this odd event so interesting to her, Kleine sort of laughed. “I’m interested in the interview form. I really don’t like giving interviews”—she gestured down to my voice recorder on the table between us—“and I’m not a very skilled interviewer. But sort of as a theatrical construct, I really like the interview. I’ve put it in several of my pieces before. Because it’s just so arbitrary. I’m going to sit here, you’re going to sit there, and we’re going to talk.”
At a lull in our conversation, I even ventured to ask her to critique my interviewing skills; I was told I have a good voice for it. Indeed, over the course of our conversation, Kleine considerably warmed to discussing her work.
“You aren’t asking any of the questions I thought you would!” she at one point exclaimed.
“What did you think I was going to ask about?”
“Me playing Yvonne Rainer,” she replied.
In part, that concern stems from a previous show at the Chocolate Factory involving Rainer’s work (Rebecca Patek’s 2012 Real Eyes) that excerpted sections of one of Rainer’s choreographies and included a letter written by Rainer in protest–the main reason Kleine stressed that in her piece, none of Rainer’s work would actually be used or excerpted. But even more than that, Kleine was nervous about having to portray such an iconic, still-living artist. I mentioned that one of the weird things I notice transcribing interviews is the distinctive cadences of people’s speech, and I wondered whether studying verbatim text of Rainer from Screening Room had caused her to notice anything specific.
“Her speech patterns have infected mine!” Kleine said. “She’s very…” Kleine affected her best Rainer impersonation, slowing the rhythm of her delivery:”‘Sooooooo… Ummmmm…’ She does that a lot. She’s always constantly in motion, rocking or nodding her head. I can’t tell in shot but maybe she’s of the people who…” Kleine began nervously bouncing her knee rapidly, which I myself had been doing moments before.
“She has very specific concerns,” Kleine added. “She’s very interesting to inhabit in that way.”
Kleine’s work after abandoning performance was a long, diverse process. For a while, she tried to “re-brand” herself as a playwright, and even received McDowell Colony residencies and a NYFA fellowship. But she didn’t really fit in.
“I remember having this discussion about this more—what I thought—was a more traditional play that I wrote, which concerned a guy under a blanket for the whole time during the play,” she recalled. “But everyone interacted with him as though he wasn’t. But this playwriting residency group, I forget where it was, there was a reading of it, and the other playwrights were like, ‘Why Is he under a blanket? Why don’t you do it with him not under the blanket?’ And I was like, ‘Because then it’s not a play, to me!'”
Indeed, Kleine stressed that for her, the literary and textual work she’d been concentrating on for the better part of the last decade was of a continuum with the concerns she addressed in her performance work. “My writing concerns are choreographic,” she told me. So it was not entirely a change when Kleine began easing herself back into performance making. I asked whether this was a one-off thing, then, or whether she was already planning new performance works.
“This is definitely the piece I had to do first,” Kleine told me. “Kristina Talking Pictures was a transitional film, and so is this—it’s the piece you have to do before you do something else.”