Lucinda Childs' group
Kay Theatre, Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center
The University of Maryland
College Park, Maryland
April 21, 2011
by George Jackson
copyright 2011 by George Jackson
One never knew what to expect when one went to see the Judson Church dancers in the early days - 1962, 1963 and perhaps still in 1965. One of them was Lucinda Childs and apart from moving with lucidity and an elegance that seemed a trifle shy, she too would surprise every time. The individuals who belonged to Judson were involved in defining themselves and reinventing dance. Such diversity, such discovery couldn't, however, and didn't last. By the later 1960s they had either ceased dancing and gone on to other activities or found themselves and developed a signature style of movement. Never mind that such a thing as a signature would have been considered a betrayal during early Judson. To survive, to flourish, a recognizable style became a life preserver. Childs came to be known for her pattern dances and it is the 1979, tripart "Dance" that she has currently revived. Expectation, which does not exclude surprise, is important in experiencing this thirty-two year old rhythmic construct of choreography for the body and the camera.
Dancers, almost as pristine as if still in Eden, cross and recross the stage as live beings and filmed ones. They continue to do so without interruption for about 20 minutes, and only after that has the audience been alerted to expect a significant change. While the dimensions and dynamics of Childs' steps, Philip Glass' music and Sol LeWitt's camera angles seem to repeat themselves endlessly, one notices the work's building blocks - the fleet runs, skips, jumps and turns, the leveraging arms, the nearly balletic aesthetic and the individual features (blond hair, long torso) of this and that dancer. Eight dancers, used as twos and fours, are the cast for the first and last sections of this three part work, with the genders equally but not emphatically represented. Childs' groundplan is neat and even chic. Her group is as attractive as a tennis party pictured in Vanity Fair. Kept active, propelled, by the music's persistence, the dancers' tirelessness astonishes. Minute shifts in the music's tonality become audible and fade within its constant pulse. The continuum's most apparent changes are due to the camerawork - different perspectives, sizes and numbers of dancers and dancefloors; images in motion as well as sequential still shots - because the filming changes less often but more noticeably than the live motion or the sound.
"Dance" has an ABA' form, with the third section having opposed streams of movement and, briefly, a standing dancer here and there as a stillpoint. After a rally of live and filmed bodies, it ends with an emptying of the stage. However, it is the middle section of the work, the Dance II "Solo", that proved to be most interesting. This "solo" is a duet for Caitlin Scranton in the flesh and the filmed Lucinda Childs of 1979.
Childs was remarkable dancing, and still is on screen. Like the long gone Nijinsky (it was caught in his photos) and the late Margot Fonteyn (watch her Firebird at the Edinburgh Festival on British Pathe's Internet archive), Lucinda Childs dances ultimately with her eyes. LeWitt's film shows her standing still at first. One takes in the trim figure, the poised Phidian stance and then, set in vitally classic features, the intensity of Childs' gaze. There is willpower as she peers out at the world and a pool of it if one looks deep into the well. Childs' Judson origins may have been left far behind in the rest of "Dance" but this solo shows her in the process of defining herself. Starting to move, the thrust of her chin is determined. There is a clarity of carriage that separates her from surrounding space and yet that touch of reserve gives the encounter a distinctive grace. Like the other sections of "Dance", the solo supposedly took circa 20 minutes but time was out of joint, it suddenly turned 1962 and we were at Judson Church. Then it was 1979 when this "Dance" was being born. Wisely, Caitlin Scranton as Childs' live counterpart, moved through the choreography calmly, statuesquely, with a noncommittal dignity. Childs' dancing on screen was fresh and "as new as anything cultural could be". Subjectively I have no notion whether the solo took two minutes or twenty.
Afterwards, Childs was interviewed by dancer-choreographer Laura Schandelmeier and the audience. In contrast to the all white apparel worn by the cast of "Dance", she dressed herself in mostly black, sporting a sleek pants suit and wearing her light brown hair neatly waved. The figure she cut was a fine one. Childs' answers to questions were matter-of-fact. For next year, she will soon be working on another revival of her, Glass' and Robert Wilson's opera "Einstein on the Beach".