Four new realizations of JAG VILL GÄRNA TELEFONERA (I WOULD LIKE TO MAKE A PHONE CALL) (1964/2018)

Score: Steve Paxton
Created and performed by: Ryan Pliss and Mac Twining, Jaqlin Medlock and Tess Montoya, Ernesto Breton and Nicholas Sciscione, Bria Bacon and Megan Wright


Score: Steve Paxton
Created and performed in 1982 by Stephen Petronio and Randy Warshaw
Performed by: Rotating members of Stephen Petronio Company

JAG VILL GÄRNA TELEFONERA by Steve Paxton was performed December 9-15, 2018 at The Museum of Modern Art in NYC for the exhibition Judson Dance Theater: The Work is Never DoneIn 1982, Steve Paxton gave the score for JAG VILL... to his students Stephen Petronio and Randy Warshaw. For this exhibition, Stephen Petronio Company reconstructed the 1982 version and created new interpretations of Paxton’s score. The program also included Paxton’s THE GOLDBERG VARIATIONS BY J. S. BACH PLAYED BY GLENN GOULD IMPROVISED BY STEVE PAXTON (1986–92).


Photos by Robert Altman


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Steve Paxton has researched the fiction of cultured dance and the “truth” of improvisation for 55 years. He lives on a farm, and he has received grants from Change, Inc., E.A.T., the Foundation for Performance Arts, and John D. Rockefeller Fund, as well a Guggenheim Fellowship. He has been awarded two NY Bessie Awards, and is a contributing editor to Contact Quarterly Dance Journal. He was one of the founders of the Judson Dance Theater, Grand Union, Contact Improvisation, and Touchdown Dance for the visually disabled (UK), and he began his career studying modern dance techniques, ballet, Aikido, Tai Chi Chuan, and Vipassana meditation. He performed with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company from 1961 to 1965. He lectures, performs, choreographs, and teaches primarily in the US and Europe. In 2008 he published the DVD Material for the Spine with ContreDanse in Brussels. In 2009 he re-choreographed Ave Nue (1985) in Amsterdam, and toured Japan—including Night Stand, with Lisa Nelson, in Tokyo. With Contredanse of Brussels, he, Florence Corin, and Baptiste Andrien have developed the Phantom Exhibition, a multi-image room of meditations on Material for the Spine, which was featured in the Super Bodies Triennale in Hasselt, Belgium. In 2013 he was featured in Tanz im August, Berlin; and his Night Stand was performed in NYC at Dia:Chelsea. In 2014 his work Bound, with Jurij Konjar, was presented in Ljubljiana, Venice, and Munich. In June 2014 he received the Venice Biennale Leone d’Oro for lifetime achievement in dance. He received another Bessie in 2016 for the same reason. Robert Ashley’s opera Quicksand, which premiered in January 2015 at the Kitchen, NYC, and was performed at Festival D’Automne in 2016, featuring set and choreography by Paxton, was included on The New York Times’ 2016 “Best 10 Classical Music Performances” list.


Paxton’s Jag Vill Gärna Telefonera (I Would Like to Make a Phone Call) was first performed as a duet by Paxton and Robert Rauschenberg in 1964 and was restaged and performed by Stephen Petronio and Randy Warshaw in 1982 on a program of Judson-era reconstructions and Danspace Project at St. Mark’s. SPC performed one version of Jag vill… at MoMA that was more or less an exact reconstruction of the 1982 performance by Petronio and Warshaw, followed by new interpretations of the visual score.


Stephen Petronio: I met Steve Paxton my first year. I had him for college and he was a guest artist doing a workshop. I became impassioned by his work, and so I began studying improvisation with him all through my college years. And then I graduated and joined the Trisha Brown Company and I had been seeing various Judson exhibitions and learning more about Judson both in college in my professional life with Trisha Brown as my experiences warranted, and I began to be exposed to different things. I became friends with Steve and there was going to be a performance and Steve approached me and Randy Warshaw, who I had gone to college with and who was studying contact improvisation and who also got into Trisha Brown Company after I did. Randy and I were kind of students of Steve and then we became members of the Trisha Brown Company. Steve at first said, “I’ve got this score that I did with Bob Rauschenberg back in the 60s, would you guys like to do it?” and we said “yes”. And he gave us this giant poster board. Which I fell in love with. I guess I had it in my room for a while. It had various cut out pictures of sports figures and news figures cut out and pasted on to it in a sequence from the upper left going to the right and then down the page. Horizontal lines and various configurations and bodies and mostly in a duet form. The only thing I really remember about the visual score was that there were dots, a series of black dots next to the pictures. Some had one, some had two, some had four. And Steve wasn’t with us. Somehow we got this poster board, I don’t remember the details of that. I think he just gave it to me and I took it home. He didn’t explain anything about it, he just said “there’s the score, make a duet.” And so Randy and I were pretty good, pretty friendly and plus we were dancing with Trisha Brown so we were around each other a lot and we just began working on it and trying to figure out what to do and we were both pretty seasoned improvers at that point. We began making a duet that we memorized.

Interviewer: And Paxton wasn’t in the room for any of that making of the score?

Stephen Petronio: No, none of it. The next time he saw it was at the dress rehearsal. I remember Steve showing up with Rauschenberg and I of course was dying because I love Steve and I love Bob and suddenly we were doing the thing that they did but we didn’t see what they did. We didn’t even see pictures of what they did. Steve likes very little information. But that’s, very typical of Steve, he’s like, “here’s the puzzle, you unravel it.” And so we did our thing and they looked at it and said very good. Randy and I were totally insecure. We did the performance, had a lot of fun and apparently it was well received.

Interviewer: Was that the only time in that period that you were working with Steve in that way? Even though it wasn’t face to face most of the time. Were you doing his works? Were you dancing with him at all?

Stephen Petronio: I was improvising with Steve quite a bit all through college, but I never performed with Steve. I was 20 years younger than him. There’s a whole generation between me and Steve that Steve was more drawn to performing with. Randy and I were considered rising students.

Interviewer: Is that why you think he decided on you guys to do this specific thing?

Stephen Petronio: I’m not sure why he decided to ask us. I think it was because we were in New York. He and Trisha were very good friends, and he kind of trained us. It just seemed like a logical choice for him I guess. And he never said to specifically memorize it. I just wanted to memorize it because that’s what I wanted to do.

Interviewer: How did you go through making it because it ended up being memorized but I assume improvised to a point?

Stephen Petronio: You have to remember that this was at the very beginning of my choreographing career, so I was very strident about making choices. You know how it is when you are younger. I was very sure that I was going to make choices. We basically started looking at a couple of pictures, started improvising and then decided if we liked it or not. Randy and I had an interesting dynamic because we were slightly competitive but we were also friends. We loved each other. I don’t remember if there was tension, or if I was being bossy. I don’t remember him being bossy at all. I remember it being quite easy actually. I think we were both very very excited to be asked to do this, so we went at it with lots of good will. It was really fun to have such a specific score. Often when we were improvising, we didn’t have such a specific score. But I have been dropping photographs into my improvisational practice from the very beginning, so this was right up my ally. I didn’t do it continuously, I did it just when I felt like it. But this was a whole score of photographs and it hadn’t occurred to me that you could do that. So this was really exciting. I remember after I began to do that much more rigorously.