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Lucinda Childs Dance Company: 'Dance'

by S. L. Wong

August 14, 2011 -- HAU1, Berlin, Germany

Through the stunning use of video, original dancers from Lucinda Childs' 1979 piece, “Dance”, 'performed' together with live dancers on stage, in an evening that saw a modulation of movement, time and space. The seminal contemporary piece, first restaged in the US in 2009, was performed as part of Berlin's annual Tanz im August international dance festival.

One of the most effective and powerful uses of video in performance that I have seen, the projected images were not only mesmerising, but integral to the deep complexity and exquisite multilayering of this hour-long three-part performance.

The video was boldly projected, not as a backdrop, but in front of the dancers, on a massive almost-invisible scrim. Thus were the virtual dancers, filmed in black and white, thrust to the fore, dancing the same dance, but to slightly different beats and with more fluid arm movements than the live dancers.

Sometimes, the virtual dancers were projected above the live dancers, as if dancing on a floor above the present stage. At other moments, the video screen was split, and the dancers moved from one screen to the other. Another technique was to freeze the video at different points, as the live dancers completed the full movements. The frozen images contrasted with the constant live movement and yet, because they were blurred, they added to the fluidity, an effective punctuating of the live movement.

Occasionally, the virtual dancers were on the same plane and were the same size as their live counterparts. This was when they were most corporeal; their being 'in front' of the live dancers a literal and powerful reminder that it was they who had come first. While they might look like shadows, it is actually the live dancers, 30 years later, who are shadowing them.
This reminder was most potent when a gigantic figure filled the screen. Shot from the waist up and dancing repeatedly directly towards and away from the camera (and therefore the audience) it conveyed a cinematically dramatic presence that could not be ignored. You were confronted with the dancer's eyes, face, body, her larger-than-life commitment to dance and to life.

That dancer, those dancers, locked in time, was and were freed that night.

Much more than a tribute to these dancers, the piece was a tribute to dance itself. Dance, ephemeral, lasting when it does, and gone when it is over, lives on only in memory. Video, however, is an extension of memory. With its aid, Childs breathed new life into the memory of 30 years ago, by collapsing time, suffusing the present with the past and unifying then and now in a compelling homage to dance.

The movements, as with Philip Glass' music, were minimalist, precise and repetitive, with barely discernible incremental changes creating seamless and flowing transitions. Through the use of jetés and glissades, the movements were a perfect interpretation of the music: light and aery, twirly and ceaseless, summoning the otherworldliness and timelessness of fairies and spirits, an impression again augmented by the haunting video. Oh what joy to be transported for a little while to a magical realm and time.

The formations were nonetheless far from simple. Conversely, they were complex and geometrical. The dancers pulsed across the stage in straight lines, horizontally, vertically or diagonally, as if following an invisible grid. Sometimes, the formations were circular or semicircular, or intricate variations thereof that yet retained a fundamental simplicity.

The whole work had the purity and organic resonance of nature itself. Nature, which is at once simple and complicated, can in movement be measured and endlessly repetitive according to some deep logic that is unfathomable. (Consider the ebb and flow of waves on a beach or a breeze-teased fern in a forest).

Still, the performance was not flawless. The central section featuring the soloist was plodding and discordant, with awkward, unfinished movements. It was saved, though, by the gigantic video projection and the realisation that it was Childs herself – now 70 – who was that young soloist.

Another point of contention was Glass' music, which was so monotonous that at times, it grated. Yet, that monotony served to underscore the complexity and precision of Childs' work. At the end, the success of the restaging attests to an essential truth of dance that is timeless.

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