“Lucinda Childs: A Portrait (1963-2016)”
The Lucinda Childs Dance Company
The Joyce Theater
New York, NY
November 29, 2016
by Martha Sherman
copyright © 2016 by Martha Sherman
Lucinda Childs’ dance comes in waves, sometimes back and forth from the wings, sometimes forward and back from upstage to down. In “Lucinda Childs: A Portrait (1963-2016),” a retrospective sample of fifty years of her choreography, the tides of her dance are entirely recognizable in the vocabulary that she’s developed over a lifetime. The New York premiere of her most recent work “Into View” (2016) held little drama, just the latest form in her satisfying, beautiful oeuvre.
Lonnie Poupard Jr., Vincent McCloskey, Matt Pardo, and Patrick John O'Neill in “Radial Courses.” Photo © John Sisley.
Three classic works from 1976-1978 were linked by the dancers' costumes, all in simple white t-shirts and wide-legged pants (costume design by Carlos Soto). The similarities of the movement and meter – soft turns, arms that floated above the dancers' heads in parallel patterns, relentless rhythms that seemed to offer not a breath to the performers – made the three pieces like scenes from a single offering. Each, though, had its own geometry. In “Katema” (1978), two pairs of women danced together from opposite corners, approaching and passing each other, as partners and then like floating square dancers.
The 1976 “Radial Courses” partnered four men in a tight diamond shape moving rapidly around the stage as a unit. As they shifted directions, split and re-sorted themselves, they resembled the idiosyncratic movements of a tribe of ferrets or a school of fish – in tight formation, shifting quickly and never colliding. Finally, “Interior Drama” (1977) was danced in a chevron of five dancers, with majestic Scranton on the point. The curtain didn’t bother to come down between these three pieces; they were danced like one long Joycean run-on sentence, rich and unapologetic.
The second half of the program pumped in joyous colors, especially the bright oranges and yellows of “Lollapalooza” (2010.) Childs’ work erased gender, making the movement distinctly neuter. The pairings offered visual complementarity – tall dancers paired or contrasted with smaller ones, not men and/or women paired as gendered partners. Even the distinctions of yellow skirts and orange pants felt more like height distinctions than gender. All moved in driving beats of quotidian steps across and around the creamsicle-colored stage. Finally, Childs stopped the dancers in their tracks, like an off button pushed at random, as the audience caught its’ own collective breath.
It was only in the later works that the performers actually danced as couples. The unexpected pairings were quietly shocking, since none of the earlier works involved any connection at all. Despite closely paralleled pairs and groupings in every work, the earlier dances mimicked the collective animal patterns in which no one had touched (except one brief, mistaken collision as two dancers missed their slender thin boundary.)
In "Canto Ostinato" (2015), that changed. It wasn’t a huge drama, and didn’t overtake the more familiar waves of individual dancers swarming the stage in parallel or echoing movement. To the piano accompaniment of Simeon ten Holt’s “Canto,” vertical lines of light made their way across the backdrop, as the dancers moved through space in graph lines, 90º angles of dance. In the couples who eventually connected, the paired movement was angular too, as men lifted women whose legs slid up in the V of a “can-opener” dive, then opened into 180º arcs encircling their partners.
“Into View,” the 2016 premiere, relaxed even more into coupling, where casual pairs intersected the waves of dance, occasionally offering a lift or partners whose bodies intertwined, wrapping around each other. The strict parallels and echoes relaxed too, as the dancers shifted in generally the same shapes, but not like the schooling fish of the earlier pieces. The endless beats, by now, were soothing and entirely familiar.
The space of "Into View" expanded to fit the dancers' lines and changing velocities, and – much like the early horizontal waves – they pulled the viewers’ eyes with them across the stage, from pairs to groups to pairs again. Finally the stage filled with five parallel couples, the women levered into the air. The lighting was a rich yellow, like sun in the desert, and it faded until all that was left was a bright central dot of yellow on the horizon – perhaps a reflection of Childs’ own focused presence – and the dancers melted away, as the sunspot faded to black.
Top: Katherine Helen Fisher in “Pastime.” Photo by John Sisley.
Bottom: Matt Pardo, Lonnie Poupard Jr., Anne Lewis, Shakirah Stewart, Katie Dorn, Benny Olk, Sarah Hillmon, and Katherine Helen Fisher in “Lollapalooza.” Photo by John Sisley.
copyright © 2016 by Martha Sherman