When the avant-garde Judson Dance Theater was in its early-Sixties heyday in a small church on New York's Washington Square, none of the artists involved likely thought that, some 40 years later, mainstream audiences would be applauding their efforts. Then again, Mikhail Baryshnikov's White Oak Dance Project wasn't around at the time. Misha, as he's known to just about everyone, was a ballet star who defected from the Soviet Union in 1974, partly because he wanted to perform postmodern dance like that cultivated by Judson founders Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs, Simone Forti, David Gordon, Deborah Hay, Steve Paxton, and Yvonne Rainer. In 1999 Baryshnikov called upon these cranky iconoclasts, who had rejected the trappings of the formal technique that made him famous. Working closely with producer and director Gordon, Baryshnikov created PASTForward, a retrospective of the Judson artists' work that proved just how important their particular form of rebellion really was. Presented by the Walker Art Center last fall, the touring performance blended revivals and new works with filmed interviews, still photographs, and archival footage, revealing an era of singular artistic inspiration, egalitarian principles, and genuine chutzpah. At its heart, PASTForward reminded us that the status quo should never go unquestioned.


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