“Living Archives and Caregiving: An Interview with Janet Werther” (Excerpt)
November 8, 2016
Living Archives and Caregiving: An Interview with Janet Werther, Part 1
The Center for the Humanities, CUNY | November 01, 2016
Release Techniques & the AIDS Body
Jordan Lord: You’ve been able to construct an understanding of Bernd’s work through the archive in a way that no one else, who didn’t have access to all of this material at once, could have. And when we talked before, you mentioned that, instead of reading certain formal aspects of his work abstractly, you are reading content into them, particularly in terms of how Bernd was using “release technique.”
Janet Werther: It was fascinating to speak with Yvonne Meier about this, too, because she was the one who brought Skinner Releasing to Open Movement at PS122 and started teaching it in New York. John studied with Yvonne outside of Open Movement as well, and it’s clear from his archive that it became very important to him to identify as someone who had a regimen of training through release technique.
The sort of ideology (if I can use such a word) behind releasing is that using the minimal amount of effort possible to do a movement is the most efficient way to do it. The thing you’re doing might be very effortful, but you don’t use more effort than you need. I think there is something really full to consider in thinking about releasing not as aesthetic training techniques but as techniques that help to heal and retrain your body without taking time off from moving and performing.
I first noticed this in John’s work while watching an excerpt of Two on the Loose, which was his last performance, with Jennifer Monson. They performed this excerpt at the PS122 Gala in 1988. In the video, Jennifer is young, and she is obviously very muscular, very powerful. John sort of forgets where he is at some moments, and she simultaneously leads and follows him. Everything is very line oriented. But it’s a different kind of line. That was the first dance of John’s that I watched. Then I looked at his oeuvre in chronological order. It’s fascinating – Lost & Found Part 2 is the first time that he starts to look sick on stage. And yet he is moving so much more efficiently than the other dancers. I associate that with releasing and, aesthetically, it looks like releasing.
When John was feeling better after the initial onset of his illness and able to dance again, he went into the studio and sort of let himself out of a cannon, and he injured his foot right away. That was a real moment of “ahh I feel better, and I want to dance, but I can hurt myself.” Yvonne Meier also came to releasing through an injury. Alexander Technique, which is another form of release technique, was coming into the community because Trisha Brown had sustained an injury and was studying it as a healing practice for herself.
What’s fascinating is that, in talking to Yvonne, it seems that releasing and the AIDS body maybe never came up in direct conversation between them. So I feel like sort of an investigator here in terms of finding out who else that had HIV or AIDS was studying release and who, if anyone, was talking about these connections. Releasing was sort of coming into the community at this time in the eighties, but nobody was talking about it around AIDS—