It’s not surprising that the program notes for the Yvonne Rainer dance retrospective at Dia:Beacon include a famous chart she created in 1968. In it a column of elements she was trying to eliminate from her dances (virtuosic movement, character, etc.) lines up with a column of elements shunned by minimalist visual artists, the kind who dominate Dia:Beacon’s permanent collection.
Yet the retrospective on Saturday afternoon (the second in a three-part series that concludes on May 13) was most interesting in the way that the selections predated Ms. Rainer’s theoretical renunciations, or belied them.
“Three Satie Spoons” (1961) was her first solo work, a series of angular poses and balances set against — but in time to — Erik Satie’s “Trois Gymnopédies.” Here the three sections were divided among Emily Coates, Pat Catterson and Patricia Hoffbauer, three of the four so-called Raindears who have served as an informal company for Ms. Rainer in recent years.
Performing with the mandated neutrality, the women revealed the dance’s reductive clarity. Beeping like a truck backing up, Ms. Hoffbauer transmitted the work’s subversive wit, but she ended in tune with Satie, her sung note ringing through the cavernous gallery.
Ms. Catterson imbued her tasks with a melancholy that seemed involuntary, part of her character, and the ballet-trained Ms. Coates, in her balances and leaps, exhibited no average-person effort. These were not flaws.
Ms. Hoffbauer took all the parts of “Three Seascapes” (1962), jogging in a parka to Rachmaninoff, lying down, rising and lying down again. In the second section her body crumpled and twisted. She flashed a creepy smile, suggesting a hitherto unnoticed connection between early Rainer and Bob Fosse.
The last seascape is the best remembered, a screaming tantrum with a pile of tulle. Ballet and Martha Graham-style soul baring were in the discard pile. But Ms. Hoffbauer, breathing heavily as the lights faded, didn’t look like someone who had said no to expressing emotion.
Like most of the dances that Ms. Rainer has made since she returned to the field in 2000, 25 years after defecting to filmmaking, “Spiraling Down” is a “found art” collage. The program notes list the names of sources, and you could engage in a game of identification. Isn’t that text about long-distance running by Haruki Murakami? Didn’t Steve Martin mug like that in “All of Me”? Does that side-to-side bouncing come from Serena Williams?
Here Ravel’s “Bolero” serves a function similar to that of the Satie and Rachmaninoff in the earlier pieces, supplying both irony and structure. Much of the humor is generated by the effort to fill out the endless crescendo.
Most of the work’s winning silliness, though, seems to arise from the specific performers. These veterans step on one another’s heels and take special pleasure in dropping Ms. Coates, the youngest. Keith Sabado, substituting for Sally Silvers, fit into this dynamic just fine, but having a man around changes the piece, and Ms. Silvers, the Raindears’ finest comedian, was missed.