Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Simply Put

May 08, 2011

From Lucinda Childs' Dance Photo:Sally Cohn Photography 2009

The other half of this weekend’s retrospective of late 20th-century dance landmarks here in Los Angeles took place over at the UCLA campus. One of the few highlights of the decimated UCLA Live performing arts season, Lucinda Childs appeared on a revival tour of her work Dance from 1979. And while it’s creation was less than ten years off from Mark Morris’ L’Allegro, il Penseroso, ed il Moderato (which was being performed downtown in a vibrant, exciting revival), Childs’ work couldn’t be more different. Dance is a collaboration between Childs, minimalist composer Philip Glass, and minimalist artist Sol DeWitt. And in keeping with that spirit, Childs’ choreography is stripped down to the most basic of elements. The work, which is divided into three sections, each lasting 20 minutes, features eight dancers in the first and last section and a solo performance in the middle. All three are marked by straightforward, almost pedestrian movement that is divided into short, often-repeated segments. The dancers are all clad in white and enter the stage with a stiffness, as well as arms and legs that are more often fully extended than not. They traverse the stage as if performing jumping jacks or basic spins that vary only minimally from passage to passage. It’s the dance equivalent of the minimalism on display in Glass’ score. LeWitt’s film of the original 1979 performance was projected at times onto a scrim in front of the live performers, creating an eerie double of the action on stage. Most interesting is that Childs herself performs the solo dance in the video giving the work a whole other layer of connection between performers, choreographer, and audience.

It was an exhilarating if intense performance. Glass’ prerecorded music has a more urgent edge here than later works and can seem almost machine like despite its beauty. Both the music and dance had the hallmark hypnotic quality that takes over the viewers sense of time during the show. The repetitive nature of it all was not for some in the dance audience, however, and on Saturday a few people quickly bailed after getting a sense where this already brief program was headed for the next 60 minutes. Dance stood in stark contrast to Morris’ piece from earlier in the weekend whose whimsy and inventiveness could be seen trickling out into so much choreography that followed his. Childs’ Dance seems much more defiantly alone - a statement unconcerned with winning over the masses in its effort to follow through on its vision and purpose. But that is exciting in and of itself. Childs boldness never lags and, even all these years after the original, it seemed defiant, yet engaging. Something about the video images of the past and the contrast with the real moving bodies of the present added another compelling layer to the performance. And while these stripped down dances may not have changed to course of everything that was to follow, they did set a course of inquiry and planted seeds in the minds of other choreographers about where the beauty in movement is located and how audiences access it. Childs’ Dance couldn’t have come back to remind us of some of that at a better time.


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