Rainer, Yvonne (1934—)

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Rainer, Yvonne (1934—)

American filmmaker, dancer and choreographer. Born in San Francisco, California, in 1934; studied dance with Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham.

Selected filmography:

(shorts) Volleyball/Foot Film (1967), Hand Movie (1968), Rhode Island Red (1968), Trio Film (1968), Line (1969); (feature lengths) Lives of Performers (1972), Film About a Woman Who … (1974), Kristina Talking Pictures (1976), Journeys from Berlin/1971 (1980), The Man Who Envied Women (1985), Privilege (1990), Murder and Murder (1996).

Yvonne Rainer moved from her hometown of San Francisco to New York City in 1957, intending to study acting, but quickly became more interested in modern dance. She studied dance under Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham, and in 1962 co-founded the Judson Dance Theater. Focusing on natural movement, Rainer invented the minimalist style of modern dance, resolutely unartificial and unemotional, which Jessica Wolff notes "departed radically from the dramatic, emotive forms of both its classical and modern dance precursors." She soon gained a name as a daring choreographer and dancer. Her works often incorporated modern or popular music, and by the mid-1960s she also began using slides, recorded and live voices, short films and narrative within her pieces, creating what have been likened to performance "collages." Her first films in the late 1960s were actually shorts created to accompany dances.

Rainer made her first feature-length production, Lives of Performers, in 1972, followed by Film about a Woman Who … (1974), in which the question implicit in the ellipsis is not answered during the movie. The collage techniques of her shorts are carried over into these longer films, which also often employ disjointed soundtracks. According to Wolff, she "interweaves the real and the fictional, the personal and the political, the concrete and the abstract" in her films, and uses a deliberately distancing, Brechtian style to encourage the audience to examine and engage intellectually with what they are watching. While the issues, often feminist, political, or emotional, in her films frequently can be provocative, they are presented without emotion. Later films include Journeys from Berlin/1971 (1980), an international co-production made while she was a visiting artist in Berlin that won the 1980 Los Angeles Film Critics' first prize for independent film, The Man Who Envied Women (1985), and Privilege (1990). Rainer has taught at a number of universities and institutes. She received the American Film Institute's Maya Deren Award in 1988, and in 1990 she was awarded a MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant.


Acker, Ally. Reel Women. NY: Continuum, 1991.

Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia. 3rd ed. NY: HarperCollins, 1998.

Lyon, Christopher, ed. The International Directory of Films and Filmmakers. Vol. 2: Directors/Filmmakers. Chicago, IL: St. James Press, 1984.

Uglow, Jennifer S., ed. and comp. The International Dictionary of Women's Biography. NY: Continuum, 1989.

suggested reading:

Rainer, Yvonne. The Films of Yvonne Rainer. Indiana University Press, 1989 (screenplays).

——. Work 1961–73. Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 1974 (illustrated dance notes).

Jo Anne Meginnes , freelance writer, Brookfield, Vermont