Most of the programs in the National Taichung Theater’s second Taiwan International Festival of Arts program this year have featured the works of modern European and Asian choreographers, such as Angelin Preljocaj, Christian Rizzo, Kris Verdonck, Ola Maciejewska, Hiroaki Umeda and Taiwanese Huang Yi (黃翊).
However, next weekend, it is offering audiences a rare opportunity to see not only an American classic, but a work that has had a seminal influence on contemporary dance, when the Lucinda Childs Dance Company performs Child’s 1979 collaboration with composer Philip Glass and conceptual artist Sol LeWit, DANCE.
Childs, who turns 78 next month, is one of a long line of dancer/choreographers who worked with the avant-garde Judson Dance Theater collective of dancers, musicians and visual artists in New York City the early 1960s, a forum that also saw such talents as Meredith Monk, Yvonne Rainer, Trisha Brown and Twyla Tharp use the Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village as a performance space.
Photo courtesy of Sally Cohn
She formed her own company in 1973, and a few years later, theater director Robert Wilson and Glass chose her to choreograph their groundbreaking opera Einstein on the Beach, which premiered in 1976, marking the beginning of many collaborations between the two men.
Childs was commissioned by the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1979 to create a full-length work, which resulted in the 60-minute DANCE. She, in turn, commissioned Glass to compose the score.
Using 10 dancers and herself, she created a work that uses repeated patterns of simple, but recognizable steps, and then expands them through tiny, incremental permutations of those patterns to explore the spatial dimensions of the theater.
Photo courtesy of Lucinda Childs Dance Company
LeWitt shot a 35mm black-and-white film of the white-clad dancers in rehearsals performing passages from three of the dances, which he sliced and layered and then projected on a scrim in front of them during the live performances, so that the live and filmed dancers moved in perfect synchronicity.
DANCE was radical for its time; now audiences take dance performances that incorporate multi-media projections for granted.
Childs’ work is often described as very balletic, which is appropriate as she has often said she was interested in was “stripped-down ballet.” She also ended up doing more work for ballet companies and other troupes in Europe, especially in France, largely due to funding opportunities.
Photo courtesy of Sally Cohn
Starting in the 1990s, she began to focus more on choreographing and directing operas, leading to her closing her company in 2000. For most of the next decade she created works for companies as varied as the Bayerisches Staatsballett, Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo and the Boston Ballet.
However, in 2009, the Richard B. Fisher Center at Bard College in New York state recommissioned DANCE, including funding the restoration of LeWitt’s film, which led to Childs opening a new company with 11 dancers.
The company has toured the US, the UK and Europe with DANCE and Childs’ other work, such as 1983’s Available Light, as well as new creations, ever since.
In a videotaped interview in 2011 about DANCE with Childs and Glass at the Walker Art Center, Childs said she never tires of listening the music, because “there is a very specific structure in Philip’s music.”
Glass said that deciding to work with LeWitt had been “a leap of faith,” because the artist had never worked in theater before.
Both Childs and Glass are famed minimalists in their own fields, but Glass said that for DANCE, they were just trying to do something different.
“We were experimenting … we were overthrowing the notion of the narrative … the movement itself becomes the content, you don’t need anything else,” he said, adding “we were ‘essentialist,’ getting to the essence of the work.”
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