Dancers in Lucinda Childs’ Dance, photo by Sally Cohn
Last Tuesday evening, Lucinda Childs Dance returned to The Joyce Theater for a rare performance of Dance, a signature 1979 work that includes a score by Philip Glass and a filmed version of the piece by Sol LeWitt. It was the main attraction on the program, and the sweeping performance proved why. Two other more recent works were also performed – the 1993 ensemble work Concerto and the 2001 solo Largo, danced by Childs (who is 69) – but neither made a particularly lasting impact. With the focus on the hour-long Dance, the performance was a beautiful, flowing, and haunting dialogue between past and present.
Two at a time, the dancers, all in white slacks and leotards, skimmed horizontally across the stage in a series of skips, turns, and low jumps. The movement itself, which remained on one level throughout the work, was not nearly as striking as the dancers’ rhythmic quality and the driving force of Glass’s score that propelled them forward. Layered on top of the dancers was LeWitt’s black and white film, making the work feel three-dimensional and historically richer. The ghostly figures were projected onto the scrim at various sizes, so that in one moment they seemed to be dancing alongside the live dancers, and in another they loomed large over the entire stage, stretching from the floor to the ceiling. They also framed the space in several ways: at one point the film was projected above the dancers, allowing the audience to simultaneously watch both live and filmed dancers.
The blending of archival footage with live dance brought up questions about authenticity. For the audience, were the “originals” – the filmed dancers – more real than the live performers? Or did the audience more closely relate to the live dancers because they were there, in the present, performing something more tangibly felt than the filmed footage? Depending on how the performance was viewed, one was echoing the other and comparisons between the two were inevitable. The live dancers were more technically trained, showing more stretch in their limbs, while the filmed dancers seemed to have a better understanding of the music’s propulsive energy.
The filmed image of Childs, and Caitlin Scranton on stage, photo by Sally Cohn
A giant-sized image of Childs appeared in the work’s second section, showing her severe beauty and ethereal movement quality as she danced on a grid while Caitlin Scranton performed on the Joyce’s stage. In her performance of Largo, Childs showed the same poise and presence that she had thirty years ago, but she looked sadly brittle and stiff.
The third part of Dance was similar to the first, but it included more complex interactions between the live and filmed dancers that accumulated as the section progressed. In the midst of the joyous, sweeping movement, one of the live dancers gazed upward at the filmed dancers performing overhead. Perhaps she was acknowledging her predecessors, offering her performance to them as much as she was offering it to the audience. Or maybe it was just coincidental that the filmed footage was hovering above her when she lifted her eyes. In spite of the archival component of the piece, preserved and here to stay, performances of Dance will always be ephemeral. The filmed dancers will remain ghosts, but as the cast of live dancers changes, so too with the live and filmed dancers’ interactions. The documented past will continue to encounter an evolving present.