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Lucinda Childs’s DANCE

You know that trick with the waterfall—the one where instead of watching the whole foaming collapse, you fix on a single crest as it arises, flies, and crashes? Quickly, the set-up of Dance: Lucinda Childs’s repetitive, patterning steps set against Philip Glass’s mesmeric music, with Sol LeWitt’s film of a 1979 performance cast in Herculean […]

You know that trick with the waterfall—the one where instead of watching the whole foaming collapse, you fix on a single crest as it arises, flies, and crashes?

Quickly, the set-up of Dance: Lucinda Childs’s repetitive, patterning steps set against Philip Glass’s mesmeric music, with Sol LeWitt’s film of a 1979 performance cast in Herculean scale and a variety of angles on a scrim at the front of the stage. What it all amounts to is a radical distortion in what you see, particularly if you sit, as I did, right down front. If you attempt to follow either a live or a filmed dancer, narrative-style, you’ll run into problems: bright others flick across your vision while your original dances rapidly out the wings. You can’t pull back and watch the whole because part of it is two-dimensional and part three-dimensional; more than most dances, Dance explores its four-dimensional space in a way which makes such global viewing impossible.

What’s left, then? The eye alighting, choosing; a line collides with a line; dance is a movement, not necessarily by or attaching to anyone; I want to be in that space where everything happens; epic, glacial, avalanche, ghost, lightning, flank rising shimmering in deep sea, partial eclipse, total, solar, glancing; no one sees what I see.

Antonioni: the temps mort trick: leave the camera running after the actors think the scene is over, so they can fall apart a bit; leave the camera running on the door that closed, so it can settle into closure.
Watch the space someone has just left and you’ll see it gradually fade and flatten. Or reverse: watch a space and wait for it to brighten with life.

I’ve never seen a dance like this.

Sidebar: one of the strange discoveries of late is how close modern dance (to simplify the labels; in terms of what “modernism” generally means—emphasis on the thing itself—this is modern and not postmodern dance) is to ballet. In its original performances it must have been farther off. In fact, here, with the 1979 video projected, we can see this is true. But classic modern companies (and pick-up companies for classic modern pieces), no doubt spurred by today’s dizzying technique, have increasingly opted for ballet-trained marvels who never saw the step they couldn’t do—or undo; what sets these dancers apart from their fellows who stayed in ballet, what makes them “modern”, is their ability to strip flourish, romance, foolishness of all types from their dancing. The arms of the originals flap a bit; hardly anyone here flaps. Childs’s replacement in her solo, Caitlin Scranton, turns as smoothly as a dowel; her giant geometry fills the stage. For pure execution you probably couldn’t beat her. Childs doesn’t. But her performance is so different. She may wear a mask of defiant beauty, but she also wears sneakers and hoop earrings. She flails; she wills. Scranton skips as severely as a Greek column could. I don’t fault her, though; I fault this larger emphasis on platonic perfection and superhuman purity—and more than that, the sense one gets of the classic work being not so much danced as reenacted.
My favorite dancer was a white-blonde imp who smiled in every step: delight moving. It was all alive to her, and she made it alive to me.

To the extent that my thought sinks in technique, though, my imagination flags. Keep moving, keep seeking new ways to look; refuse to look like the person you were an hour ago. Find a novel horizon—make deliberate fragments of the dance, each as precious as a bit of antique statuary—watch the way a kitten would, avidly.
Watch the curve of a back as it moves about the stage, a lit parenthesis in the dark, flexible bow arching and rebounding.
To say nothing of the absolute symmetries that flare up—

After, a friend and I agreed we were happy to have been there. We expect people to expend energy on their children, their jobs, homes, themselves; but when someone pours energy into a nothing like the blank of a theater until that “point that has been fed over years becomes a little bit alive” (Anne Carson), that is a beautiful gift. Nothing can repay that—except an answering enlivening of the void.

Watch the space where nothing is; something is there.

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