Hirshhorn Museum To Present Co-Commission and Self-Described ‘Last Dance’ by Acclaimed Avant-Garde Choreographer and Filmmaker Yvonne Rainer

DC Premiere of “Hellzapoppin’: What About the Bees?” Feb. 9–10
January 20, 2023
News Release

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Three people carry a fourth person laying straight across in their arms

Performance image of Yvonne Rainer’s “Hellzapoppin’: What About the Bees?” (2022). Courtesy of Performa. Photo by Maria Baranova

The Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden will present pioneering American dancer, choreographer and filmmaker Yvonne Rainer’s self-described “last dance” in the Rasmuson Theater at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian Feb. 9–10. Named by The New York Times as a “giant of choreography,” Rainer, brings her intergenerational company for a program that features the Hirshhorn’s co-commission, Hellzapoppin’: What About the Bees? (2022).

The showcase marks Rainer’s return to the nation’s capital for the first time since 2014 and frames the importance of Rainer’s six-decade postmodern practice in two artworks. 

Rainer will screen After Many a Summer Dies a Swan: Hybrid, the 2002 film that marked her return to choreography after a decades-long hiatus. This artwork combines a recording of a commission for Mikhail Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project, inspired, in part, by a 1923 recording of Alla Nazimova dancing Salome. In her 30-minute film, Rainer overlays footage of Baryshnikov dancing with texts by fin-de-siècle Viennese artists Oskar Kokoschka, Adolf Loos, Arnold Schoenberg and Ludwig Wittgenstein on themes of resistance.

Rainer will also present her most recent composition and self-proclaimed swan song. Marking its Washington, D.C., premiere, Hellzapoppin’: What About the Bees? (2022) is the artist’s meditation on privilege within systemic racism. Joined by a company of eight performers including previous collaborator, Obie Award-winning actress Kathleen Chalfant, Hellzapoppin’ features Rainer’s signature collage of daily movement-as-dance, text and film. Chided by the voice of Apollo Musagetes, the sun god, from Mount Olympus to examine America’s racial divide, the dancers respond in Rainer’s characteristic style, movements synchronized with dueling projections from the 1941 Lindy Hop musical, Hellzapoppin’ and Jean Vigo’s boarding-school drama Zero for Conduct (1933). 

Hellzapoppin’ underlines the importance of Yvonne Rainer’s tireless inquiry into the grammar of performance to pose important questions,” said Melissa Chiu, director of the Hirshhorn. “Rainer’s landmark performance not only encapsulates her 60-plus years in performance art but follows the museum’s performance series with Laurie Anderson in 2022, a testament to the Hirshhorn’s support for staging landmark performances on the National Mall.”

Performance Details 
Hellzapoppin’: What About the Bees?
Thursday, Feb. 9, and Friday, Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. in the Rasmuson Theater at the National Museum of the American Indian. Tickets are $20; $10 for Hirshhorn Insider members; $5 for students. 

Hellzapoppin’ (2022) was jointly commissioned by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Performa and Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden.

This project received support from the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative.

About Yvonne Rainer

Rainer, one of the founders of the Judson Dance Theater (1962), made a transition to filmmaking following a 15-year career as a choreographer/dancer (1960–1975). After making seven experimental feature-length films, she returned to dance in 2000 via a commission from the Baryshnikov Dance Foundation (After Many a Summer Dies the Swan). Her dances and films have been seen throughout the U.S., Europe and Asia in concert halls and museum retrospectives. Rainer’s publications include Feelings Are Facts: a Life; Work: 1961–73; The Films of Yvonne Rainer; A Woman Who…: Essays, Interviews, Scripts, Moving and Being Moved; and Revisions. Her awards include two Guggenheim Fellowships, a MacArthur Fellowship, a U.S.A Fellowship and a Yoko Ono Courage Award.

Cast of Hellzapoppin’: What About the Bees?

Emily Coates
Brittany Bailey
Brittany Engel-Adams
Patricia Hoffbauer
Vincent McCloskey
Emmanuèle Phuon
David Thomson
Timothy Ward
Kathleen Chalfant

About the Hirshhorn 

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden is the national museum of modern and contemporary art and a leading voice for 21st-century art and culture. Part of the Smithsonian, the Hirshhorn is located prominently on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Its holdings encompass one of the most important collections of postwar programs on the art of our time—free to all. The museum and its outdoor sculpture garden are open daily (except Dec. 25), 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m. For more information, visit hirshhorn.si.edu. Follow the museum on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.

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SI-10-2023