Lucinda Childs’ Dance is difficult to describe, not because of its complexity. Quite the opposite. It’s because descriptions of its purposely limited movement scheme could not communicate its overall elegance and beauty.
First staged in 1979 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music—which I attended and still remember 42 years later—Dance combines Childs’ choreography with Philip Glass’ pulsating music and Sol LeWitt’s brilliant, trend-setting videos.
This Joyce season marked a long-awaited return of Childs to the New York stage. She is one of a very few dance artists, like Twyla Tharp, arising from the antiestablishment experimental world of the Sixties to gain international fame, choreographing for the Metropolitan Opera (Glass’ Einstein on the Beach) and the Lyon Opera Ballet (Beethoven’s Grand Fugue) and working with ballet superstar Mikhail Baryshnikov (Letter to a Man). This affinity with classical ballet was quite evident in Dance, particularly the third section.
Before the dancers appeared live, Dance commenced with a burst of Glass’ iconic, pulsating music—here pre-recorded, originally performed live—and a still from LeWitt’s original video projected onto a scrim which covered the entire stage opening. LeWitt’s videos, intimate contributions to the work, also served to honor the performances of the original cast: Childs, Graham Conley, Cynthia Hedstrom, Erin Matthiessen, Daniel McCusker, Susan Osberg, Judy Padow, Ande Peck and Megan Walker.
Behind the scrim, the eight-member cast, beautifully lit by Beverly Emmons and costumed by A. Christina Giannini in simple white body-hugging outfits, began “Dance I.” They shot from the wings in a tilted, sideways jump, ran across the stage at breakneck speed, stopped to do a little foot stomping turn then some more running all the while doubled by huge images of the original cast mimicking the exact same steps, sometimes filmed straight on and other times from a high angle. The repetitions became exercises in endurance as they were performed in various combinations of dancers and directions responding to the slight shifts in Glass’ score.
“Dance II,” performed by Caitlin Scranton, revivified Childs’ own solo. And, there was Childs, at first a huge, still figure on the screen; behind her on the stage was Scranton both performing the same steps, of course, which consisted of slow chaînés (turns on two feet), forward and back, perpendicular to the audience, breaking into a gently galloping run. Although the huge visual of Childs almost overwhelmed Scranton, she provided a strong version of the uncomplicated choreography.
“Dance III” bookended Dance with another group dance for Robert Mark Burke, Katie Dorn, Sarah Hillmon, Sharon Milanese, Matt Pardo, Lonnie Poupard Jr., Shakirah Stewart and Patrick John O’Neill (who took the place of Kyle Gerry from Dance I).
Here the steps were pure classical ballet featuring large leaps, turns and chassés (a shuffling step), but mainly many, many grands fouettés in which they kicked a leg forward then swiftly twisting their torsos around turning the leg into an arabesque. Childs kept the actual dancers in perpetual motion. As “Dance III” reached a crescendo of sound and movement, four different videos played on the scrim, each image from a different point of view. Somehow all these elements came together to make hearts beat faster as if all the viewers were as excited viewing the work as the dancers were doing it.
This was a special occasion, an historic bit of dance history brought to glowing life again.
Lucinda Childs Dance (October 19-24, 2021)
The Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-242-0800 or visit http://www.Joyce.org
Running time: one hour without an intermission