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Jack Anderson

The Lucidities of Lucinda Childs


LUCINDA CHILDS DANCE -- L to R: Sharon Milanese, Shakirah Stewart, Katie Dorn, Brett Alan, Vincent McCloskey, Kate Fisher and Travis Magee. Photo by Sally Cohn.

Dance: Choreography by Lucinda Childs
Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue at 19th Street, Chelsea
October 6-11, 2009
Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.; $45, $35, $19, $10
Tickets: (212)242-0800 or www.joyce.org
Reviewed by Jack Anderson, October 8, 2009

The dances of Lucinda Childs clear the choreographic air. Their almost unfathomably complex, yet visually lucid, patterns are antidotes against the miasmas of muddy spatial shapes and hazy kinetic ideas, and their vigor prevents them from being mere soulful wafting about.

No wonder, then, that the three works from her repertory at the Joyce were refreshing. "Concerto" (1993), which opened the program, could be interpreted as a declaration of her choreographic principles. Its seven dancers, in severe black costumes by Anne Masset, move relentlessly in and out to clattering music by Henryk Gorecki, skipping and spinning, sometimes with arms held at shoulder level, sometimes holding them upraised. Did the clatter result from the Joyce's occasionally troublesome sound system, or was the volume level intended by the composer or the choreographer? Impossible for me to say. Yet the sonic urgency helped make the dancers appear to be going on a mission: an important one, and one they would triumphantly accomplish. "Concerto" was bracing, yet never frigid. It burned with cold fire.

Tempos slowed in "Largo" (2001), a solo to Corelli in which Childs in her first appearance on a New York stage since 2002, walked with obvious determination, making sudden stops, and then resuming with little turns. The contrasts between starts and stops gave this modest piece a sense of quiet purposefulness.

However, the major attraction was the revival of "Dance," a blending of music, films, and choreography that has attained almost legendary status since its .premiere in 1979. I was out of town then and missed it. Yet I heard much about it when I returned home, and those who saw it have continued to speak admiringly of it. Their memories have not deceived them. "Dance" is a marvel.

Once again, there are severe costumes, white ones this time by A. Christina Giannini that make every step stand out. The first and third movements of "Dance" are ensembles for a cast of eight that emphasize the hops and skips that have come to be trademarks of Childs's choreography. Dancers rush in and out, yet without any sense of panic or distress, to a shimmering score by Philip Glass. These sequences alone would make "Dance" worth watching.

But what makes it magical as well are the films by Sol LeWitt. A scrim hangs at the very front of the stage, and while live dancers perform behind it, filmed images of dancers are projected on it, viewed from varying heights and angles, including several moments that reveal they are moving on a grid floor pattern, as if on a chessboard. Live and filmed dancers sometimes shadow one another, and sometimes seem to merge, so that it can be hard to tell what is real and what is illusion.

Back in 1979, the filmed dancers were the same ones who performed on stage. And they're still on cinematic view, but dancing with a whole new live cast. The second movement of the work is a long solo, originally by Childs (who still does it on film). But her stage counterpart is now Caitlin Scranton, who sometimes appears dwarfed by the size of the filmed image of Childs, although at other times they seem partners.

Comparing them with the cast of the current group scenes, the filmed dancers of 1979 could conceivably be regarded as ghosts of dancers past. Nevertheless, they are very much present interacting with today's flesh-and-blood people. Mixing past and present, this staging of "Dance" has become an affirmation of the power of dance itself: people may come and go, yet dancing lives on.

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