On Saturday November 5th, I went to see Lucinda Childs’ A Portrait (1963-2016) at UCLA Royce Hall. The twin towered brick and tile building in a Lombard Romanesque style, gracefully welcomed me as I made my way to the outdoor Royce Hall balcony, where I joined the early crowd for a glass of wine overlooking Sunset Boulevard. Anticipation was in the air. I was thrilled to see the work of a remarkable artist and choreographer, who altered the way we perceive performance and generated material that continues to influence artists to this day.
Lucinda Childs’s is a unique choreographer whose early start came from the now legendary art Judson Church movement. This was an avant-garde artistic collective who experimented with basic movement, found objects and non-theatre spaces. Together with Deborah Hay and and Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs founded the Judson Dance Theater in New York in the late 1960s. This was a space where they all forged their early explorations, developed their practices an performed in front of their artist peers in the hotbed of the downtown New York art scene. These three women were at the center of the emerging post modern dance movement.
Inspired by John Cage and Marcel Duchamp, Lucinda Child’s compositions are often described as conceptual and minimalist. She has collaborated with musicians, artists and architects to create luminous, intricate and endlessly fascinating work. She is widely known for her groundbreaking works both in the US and abroad; notably the Robert Wilson/Philip Glass opera Einstein on the Beach(1976, co-choreographed with Andy DeGroat), and Dance (1979, with Glass and Sol LeWitt).
Lucinda Childs: A Portrait (1963-2016) was a diverse retrospective arc across her evolving sensibilities and explorations through a selection of choreographies in a chronological order. Starting with Pastime (1963) through Radial Courses (1976) through Lollapalooza (2010) to her world premiere of Into View (2016).
The show opened with Pastime (1963), set in what seemed to be a factory or an old warehouse. The music of Philip Corner, with its induced sounds of dribbling water and old pipes, added to the industrial feel and the haunting, post apocalyptic atmosphere of the set. I recall an image of a woman on the floor, enveloped by a light stretchy material, with only her head sticking out, as if in a cocoon, slowly moving but not trying to get out. The dances that followed involved groups of men or women mechanically walking through space, dressed in white simple attire; a shimmering play of geometrical explorations. The movement and sound were elegantly stripped to the basics. The dancers were moving to the sound of their feet and although they were not touching, they were precisely and intricately connected.
The silence in the pieces Katema (1978), Radical Courses (1976) and Interior Drama (1977) turns the works into masterpieces of vibration and rhythm carefully and beautifully executed by all the dancers alike. It feels like we are seeing the inside of an antique mechanical clock with dancers turning into different compositional parts. These early silent pieces were originally performed in alternative spaces such as old factories, old churches and basements and I think that the set really brought this experience closer to us. I can only imagine what it was really like to experience such choreographic mastery in abandoned and derelict spaces.
What came after the intermission, starting with Lucinda Childs’s work in the 90s, was a clear and unique development and breakthrough. Perfection of the form exemplified by her work in the 70s and 80s, reached its heights, diversified and merged with vivid colours and music by the likes of Henryk Gorecki, John Adams, Simeon ten Holt and Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld. Seeing her earlier pieces without sound, made me appreciate the beauty of collaboration and how abstract music and abstract dance can come together and form perfect pairings and a unique style.
There is something to be said about watching dance in silence, appreciating the form and then bringing back music and colour. I felt that the earlier silent pieces, prepared me for the wave of what came next. Starved for music, my experience reached its height through a form of meditation.
All the pieces after the intermission were exceptional and I could spend all day writing about how they made me feel, but let me just give you a little glimpse.
Canto Ostinato (2015), “Obstinate Song" (as ostinato) is a wonderful minimal and repetitive musical composition written by the Dutch composer Simeon ten Holt. Lucinda Child’s choreography that focuses on patterns rather than on pairings beautifully merges with the sound. All throughout the piece, we see a turquoise strip moving and replicating from one part of stage to the other. It has its own life and moves in the rhythm of Canto Ostinato. The music and choreography walk hand in hand with the video décor by Dominique Drillot and the mind simply levitates. The piece feels very intergalactic and contemporary at the same time.
The retrospective comes to an end with the premiere of Lucinda Child’s “Into View (2016)” featuring music by two Arcade Fire collaborators, violinist Sarah Neufeld and saxophonist Colin Stetson. The piece is danced by an ensemble of 10, paired into five couples and as we saw with her earlier work, Lucinda Childs is challenging herself further by bring physical contact into her work, something her audience had not witnessed before. As with physical touch, sun comes into view and new forms arise with beautiful play on light, bringing out silhuettes dancing in what feels to be a red sunset. A heart felt ending to a strong retrospective and a beginning to new collaborations of a timeless choreographer.
Lucinda Childs has the ability to turn experimentation and collaboration into a meditative and coherent process. Lucinda Childs’ A Portrait (1963-2016) at UCLA Royce Hall is a brilliant timeline and celebration of her work at the very peak of her creative power. I was honoured to be part of the history of the work as it moves to BAM in New York and on to many of the world’s most revered stages in Europe and beyond. I cannot wait to see what comes next.