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By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 28 NOVEMBER 2016 — In an Autumn tribute to the postmodern American choreographer, Lucinda Childs, Dance, one of her most important works, was programmed at the Theatre de la Ville, while Available Light, a work but rarely seen, was presented at the Chatelet Theatre. Concurrently, an exhibition of her work, Lucinda Childs, Nothing Personal, including over 300 videos, texts and original dance scores, is being shown at the Thaddaeus Ropac Gallery and  the CND Centre National de la Danse.

The tribute began with a restaging of her emblematic piece, Dance, created for her own company in 1979, but interpreted by the Ballet de l’Opéra de Lyon on this occasion.

"They asked me for permission to dance the work", Childs told me at the Chatelet, "and I was pleased with the result. We worked together for maybe a few weeks, in fits and starts. We also made a new filmography to replace Sol Lewitt’s early video which I thought was very successful."

Set to a commissioned, ‘minimalist’ score by Philip Glass, whom Childs met in the early 70’s, with a filmed video by Sol Lewitt which was superimposed upon the dancers, the piece was revolutionary for the time. Minimalist as regards the movements, composed of a series of repetitive jumps, turns, and small rapid steps,* the structure itself was more elaborate. Of particular interest were the patterns the dancers made as they crisscrossed the stage, first skimming horizontally across in waves of two, then leaping across in groups of three and four before coming forwards from the back to the front of the stage and subsequently turning around in circles. Simultaneously Lewitt’s giant-sized, luminous video of them dancing floated above their heads in a second layer of movement. All the while, the dance steps with their resulting patterns synchronized perfectly with the score.

Ballet de l’Opéra de Lyon in Dance
Choreography: Lucinda Childs
Photo: Jaime Roque de la Cruz

The dancers themselves, all classically trained, many of the women having studied at the Paris Opera School, were lovely. They were graceful, fluid, air-borne, and accurate. One false move and the whole effect would have collapsed, especially in the first part of the work, where, clad in white, their arms outstretched, the choreography played upon their double, both live on stage and in the video.

Noelle Conjeaud, a lovely dancer who began her career at the Paris Opera Ballet, performed an interesting solo in the second part of the work, the solo interpreted by Childs herself in 1979. It was followed by a last movement where four women and four men returned to the gestures of the first part of the piece, where small, subtle changes had been made to the same small steps, jumps and turns.

However the excellence of the interpretation, the precision and grace which one could both admire and appreciate, did not hide the fact that the work, fascinating as it must have been nearly 40 years ago, contained not a gram of emotion and left one feeling  uninvolved despite the framework of lightness and evanescence that Lewitt’s designs bestowed.

After the undeniable beauty of Dance, Available Light, the two-part minimalist dance work created four years later and seen the following evening at the Chatelet, had little to offer, despite its complementary theme of verticality. More earthbound and revolutionary in 1983 when it was created, it seems more of a curiosity today regardless of the attractive start which had eight dancers silhouetted against a striking metal construction erected on two levels.

Ballet de l’Opéra de Lyon in Available Light
Choreography: Lucinda Childs
Photo: Craig T. Mathew

The 55-minute piece was the result of a collaboration between Childs, designer Frank Gehry and John Adams. Indeed, Adams’ score, Light over Water, rendered it more atmospheric than Dance, the work being described in the programme notes as being "both similar yet different at the same time". The horizontal of Dance was been replaced by a verticality in Available Light, where the dancers evolved on two levels, a dancer above echoing the movements of the dancer below in a separated duo, and the eye was also caught by various trios and quartets with the interpreters dancing in unison. It is a methodical, mechanical creation where Childs’ interpreters remain totally impassive throughout. The costumes, in red, black or white, were unremarkable.

The retrospective of Childs’ work at the CND de Danse and the Thaddaeus Gallery in Paris on view through 17 December 2016, covers the choreographer’s work for over 30 years, illustrating how her unique language marked contemporary dance. Organised chronologically, it unites not only Childs’ own scores, but films and works of other artists with whom she collaborated, including Andy Warhol.

In the 1960’s, Lucinda Childs was part of an experimental group of musicians and artists who presented their work at the Judson Memorial Church. Founding her own company in 1973, she also worked with Robert Wilson on his landmark opera Einstein on the Beach three years later. It was during these years that she developed her new, minimalist, repetitive dance, the "walk, jump and turn" style which is somewhat dated today.

*Leaving the theatre, it was quite amusing to see members of the public perfectly performing the same steps we had seen inside the amphitheatre.

Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She has contributed to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Based in Paris,  Patricia Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque.

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