Questions from the Audience, Part 2: Trio A Pressured #X in Context

Here is post number 2 in our Questions from the Audience series, a collection of posts inspired by questions and comments from our Home Season audiences about Realign the Curve (see the first post of the series here, and the introduction to the series here). Today we’ll be spending a little time putting AXIS’ historic translation of Trio A, renamed Trio A Pressured #X, into context. This post is a little on the meatier side, so you may want to get comfortable. "It is a well-documented fact that in 1965 the dance and film icon Yvonne Rainer spent about 180 days in a studio in New York City creating what has come to be regarded as the seminal work of post-modern dance - Trio A or The Mind is a Muscle, part 1.,” writes Trio A répétiteur, Linda K. Johnson in her piece, “Finding Trio A,” first published by InDance Magazine in 2010.  “As Sally Banes so articulately states in her influential work on the dance-makers of that period, Terpsichore in Sneakers, the resulting impact of Trio A has been nothing less than transformative for our notions of dance creation and performance. "The history of dance theory has been the repeated conflict between those who value technique and those who value expression...With Rainer's Trio A the cycle is at last broken. The debate is made irrelevant. The possibility is proposed that dance is neither perfection of technique nor of expression, but quite something else - the presentation of objects in themselves. It is not simply a new style of dance, but a new meaning and function, a new definition of dance, that has appeared." *

Yvonne Rainer performing Trio A in Portland, 1969

As Johnson describes above, Trio A has come to be widely regarded as the seminal work of post-modern dance, and nothing less than transformative within the field of dance. Since the piece first premiered in 1966 at the Judson Memorial Church in New York City, it has been performed and re-presented many times; sometimes as a solo, sometimes a trio or quartet, sometimes accompanied by the Mo-town hit, In the Midnight Hour, sometimes in silence, or even as it originally appeared, accompanied by the sound of slats of wood falling from the Judson Church balcony.

However, until April 11, 2014, the opening night of AXIS’ Realign the Curve, no iteration of Trio A had ever been presented as danced and staged by a cast that included dancers with disabilities. AXIS’ re-staging of Trio A, Trio A Pressured #X, not only offered the company an exciting opportunity and immense privilege of playing a part in history, it also presented an unprecedented challenge: to adapt one of the most famously particular works in the field of modern dance on to bodies that move quite differently from the bodies the work was originally choreographed for.

Trio A is very specific. It calls for uninflected performance delivery, no hierarchy within its happening, no eye contact made between the performers or with the audience, and an equal distribution of energy throughout. No movement is repeated and the choreography is without counts, danced at the unique speed of each dancer. Yvonne Rainer is famously selective with who she allows to re-stage the piece, and only then may they do so by being taught by one of very few répétiteurs worldwide. Trio A Pressured #X was transmitted to AXIS by Linda K. Johnson, one of the piece’s five répétiteurs.

Joel and Marc rehearse Trio A Pressured #X

With Yvonne’s blessing, Linda K. and the AXIS dancers began working on the piece in January. Sonsherée and Juliana, the two dancers without disabilities performing the piece, had the incredibly difficult task of learning and mastering the piece as it is. Marc and Joel had the entirely unprecedented task of deciding with Linda what essence of the original movement was most important - the facing, the gesture, pathway, directionality? - and then translating those decisions into movement. Throughout the process, we sought to respect the principles of choreography, exploring the balance between maintaining the integrity of individual movements while also staying true to the piece as a whole.

After our first rehearsals with Linda, she sent the clips of our work to Yvonne.  Linda had been incredibly supportive since she started working with us, but Yvonne would be the final word. One of the original concerns was the challenge of maintaining the task-like quality of the movements even while Marc and Joel travelled in their chairs. We were all thrilled to hear that Yvonne, after watching the clips, was very excited as well. She was pleased to see that the translation was capturing the essence of the functionality of the piece, and as Linda elaborated, they discovered throughout the translation process that the task itself of moving in the chair was unexpectedly well-suited for the principle of the work’s integrity.

By February, the cast and Linda had begun the process of cleaning the movement they had come up with, and come March, they tackled staging. All the while, the dancers worked tirelessly while Linda helped them to “unwind each of their idiosyncrasies,” allowing them to dance the work in the uninflected manner intended by Yvonne, and smooth the quality of effort required to move in their chairs.

By opening night of Realign the Curve and the premiere of Trio A Pressured #X, hours and hours of sweat and effort had gone into the re-staging and historic translation of the work, supported all along by Linda K. Johnson and Yvonne Rainer. Overall, the process was an incredible thrill and an honor. All of us at AXIS are proud of the dancers and grateful to Yvonne and Linda for taking on the challenge and really soaring with it.

And you - what did you think of the piece?


*Finding Trio A by Linda K. Johnson, first published in InDance magazine, January/February 2010 issue, Dancers Group. appeared on page 4. Read the whole article here.
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