Perth Festival: Lucinda Childs ~ theatre notes

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Perth Festival: Lucinda Childs

From the moment that Philip Glass's insistent, spiralling score erupts in the auditorium, this revival of Lucinda Child's 1979 work Dance is relentless. Each dance in this trilogy begins and ends abruptly, filling all available space and then stopping. It's a thing that is and then isn't, in a way that I haven't seen very often, and watching it feels a little like being possessed and then released.

Lucinda Childs Dance Company

Yet Dance is a far cry from the Bachannalian. Its cool, formal loveliness is the acme of Apollonian art: these are not erotic bodies, but avatars of pure form. Its classicism shows the influence of Merce Cunningham, but unlike Cunningham's work, the dance is precisely relational to the music: every movement seems to have its instrument, every note its gesture. Childs's choreography is the analogue of Glass's continuous variations, the swirling, ever recurrent arpeggios and bursts of voice that are always the same and always different.

Its distillation of form made me think of nothing so much as the paintings of Matisse: the movement is like an idealised folk dance stripped to its most essential gestures, and then sped up. The pleasure is in the precision, both in each individual dancer but also in their spatial relationships on stage, and in the increasing depth of the work's texture. As with Glass's music, its complexities spiral out of its constant subtle variations.

The sole design element, aside from the white unisex costumes, is a scrim front stage on which is projected black and white film by Sol LeWitt. These are images of the same dance we are seeing live. Sometimes the film is all you see, with the stage hidden; sometimes a still of a dancer in motion hesitates and vanishes; most often the film is of the same steps we see on stage, but taken from a different angle and projected above or besides the dancers. In the middle solo piece, originally danced by Childs herself, the first, lingering image is a gigantic close-up of Childs, from behind which the live dancer emerges and vanishes.

The three parts are clearly, even geometrically, demarcated. In the first, pairs of dancers skip and whirl across the stage from one side to the other, following a straight course laterally across the stage. In the second, a solo, the dancer follows a line centre stage from the back to the front. In the third, groups of paired dancers expand the patterns to diagonals and circles. The effect is a continual, subtle enrichment of the language we are witnessing. The movement is rapid, extraordinarily precise and continuous: the energy begins at a certain level and unwaveringly stays there, until the piece stops. And when it stops, it just stops.

When Childs collaborated with Glass and LeWitt to create this work, it was one of the iconic post modern works of the time. Restaged in 2012, it is still remarkable: it is of its time, but remains a work of challenging beauty. Sol LeWitt's film, perhaps the riskiest element, demonstrates that style does not date: it has even gained a kind of retro cool. And it adds in 2012 a moving sense of the work's own history, as we watch the contemporary dancers on the same stage as the original cast, past and present dancing together.

Dance, choreographed by Lucinda Childs, music by Philip Glass, film by Sol LeWitt. Lucinda Childs Dance Company, Heathe Ledger Theatre, until February 25.

Disclaimer: Theatre Notes visited Perth as a guest of the Perth Festival.

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