Press/Reviews

Dance Review | Sara Rudner

Movement With and Against Music, but Bracingly Reddit

Published: May 15, 2007

The Divine Sarah is what they used to call Sarah Bernhardt. The Divine Sara is what some New York dancegoers began to call Sara Rudner in the 1970s. Ms Rudner is one of those rare artists who embody the art form they practice: a born dancer, sensuous and infinitely expressive, with a fluent body gifted in feats of multiple coordination, intense focus and effortless control over long, complex phrases of movement. To borrow the brilliant title of the dance historian Sally Banes’s definitive history of the New York 1960s generation of experimentalists, Ms. Rudner is Terpsichore in sneakers.

Though she worked with Twyla Tharp while Ms. Tharp’s work took off into bravura areas of partnering, storytelling and virtuoso technique, Ms. Rudner’s own dancing has always exemplified the most beautiful control of what has been called “democratic dance.” Give her movements that, individually, most of us could do — shimmy, twist, walk, fall, kick — and she combines them into a rich, witty lyricism that is at once intoxicating and as natural as bird song.

Her work with 16 female colleagues (all experienced, some well known) on Sunday, “Dancing-on-View (Preview/Hindsight),” at the Baryshnikov Arts Center, involved ensembles of layered musical complexity and a wide range of enthralling duets and solos. As the performance developed, we came to see the particular gifts of each dancer, some only gradually, some almost immediately. And though large parts of the dancing occurred, rivetingly, in silence, Ms. Rudner’s use of music was still better. Sometimes she played a Glenn Miller recording, but the most marvelous sequences were those when the musicians William Catanzaro and Jerome Morris provided live accompaniment on piano, accordion, harmonica and a wide range of percussion, evoking sound worlds now like the Balinese gamelan, now like a country and western song. The marvel lay in the changing imagination with which music was juxtaposed against dance: sometimes brisk against movement from one long-held pose to another, sometimes exotic against dancing that basically consisted of walking in circles.

To watch a Rudner dance is to see a constant interplay of impulses: The hips shift gorgeously from side to side, while the knees bend, the insteps tread, the shoulders shift. Even when just walking in circles, the dancers are waving arms in sweeping horizontal patterns and tilting the whole body.

The phrases are fascinatingly long and diverse, linking movement ideas that seem drawn from Asian and Egyptian sculpture (Buddha, Krishna, the Sphinx) with wholly modern gestures (as if hitching a ride, checking a wristwatch). Ms. Rudner often sets them polyphonically, so that we’re watching up to eight separate phrases at one time.

Her musical deployment is always spatially absorbing too: Two groups of dancers will make a rolling bas-relief round the peripheries of the stage while a duet in another tone and tempo occupies the center. In one solo for herself, “The Talkie,” evoking her 1960s past with Ms. Tharp, Ms. Rudner chose to answer questions while dancing. More than once her answer, tenderly, was “These are the good old days.” As she danced, the sun was setting behind her, the sky glowing, and the day was indeed very good.