Lucinda Childs
Lucinda Childs' “Dance.” Photograph by Sally Cohn

Postmodern Vibes

Lucinda Childs & Lyon Opera Ballet's “Dance”

Performance
Lucinda Childs & Lyon Opera Ballet: “Dance”
Place
Théâtre de la Ville, Paris, France, September 29-October 3, 2016
Words
Jade Larine

It isn’t as mainstream as the Opera Garnier’s season opening. Facing the Théâtre du Châtelet, the Théâtre de la Ville hosts a yearly festival as fall takes its toll on yellowish leaves of Haussmann boulevards. In spite of its great media coverage by contemporary dance enthusiasts and low pricing policy, Le Festival d’automne, is something of a well-kept secret. The 2016 edition is dedicated to Lucinda Childs’ postmodern vibes, featuring her famous piece, “Dance” the evening of the premiere. When first performed in 1979, “Dance” met with mixed reception. Later, it earned the status of ‘masterpiece’ and it’s rare to read a review where Lucinda Childs is not labelled as a genius choreographer, being a powerful dance mathematician. Now, “Dance” is back in the Childs-accustomed walls of Théâtre de la Ville, in a restaged version. The projections on the monochrome grid make the dancers move along with ghostly figures, as if emerging from the past. Sadly, Lucinda Childs’ emblematic aura vanished, altering the uncanny dialogue which Sol LeWitt’s original film used to trigger. And what’s a masterpiece without the shadow of its creator?

Childs’ most ‘classical’ ballet, “Dance” is first and foremost the outcome of a meeting between three cutting-edge artists of the minimalist movement, an anti-elitist trend that was forged by newly acquired individual liberties in the U.S. Such collaboration was revolutionary back then. Now in the 2010s, it’s quite hard to tell where is the breakthrough in it, unless specialized in the history of dance. And now that Childs’ haunting gaze, angular features and long-limbed silhouette have disappeared from the recomposed film, “Dance” is not as striking as it used to be.

Childs’ approach to dance is a conceptual one, slightly cerebral, and “Dance” encapsulates such philosophy. The choreographer unfolds it on a large-scale pattern with the minimalist trend of her time. The ballet is set to an ever-moving structure, meticulously amplifying the same variation over and over. It could have been a bore hadn’t it been for LeWitt’s film, which encompasses the dancers and gives “Dance” its interesting perspective.

Steps look simple at first sight but they vary in tiny nuances. Although geometric and repetitive, movements are not robotic. Staging dehumanized automatism isn’t what “Dance ” is about. Once a natural heir to Merce Cunningham and John Cage’s avant-garde, Childs is focused on minimalist patterns. “Dance’s” stripped down aesthetic is almost eerie, close to a a 20th-century version of the willis’ world. Dressed in pristine white uniforms, holding their arms in the form of a cross, dancers somewhat embody the value of purity. Indeed, Childs meant to personify the purity of dance. The bluish light that the first part casts on stage emphasizes such supernatural effect. Released from the sophistication that is typical of 19th-century classical ballets, the audience can enjoy a state of serenity.

“Dance” is made up of 3 different parts. The first series of horizontal lines with eight dancers sets the tone for the hour-long ballet. The middle one shows a solo which was performed by Childs herself back in the days. Noëllie Conjeaud, a tall dancer, rose to the challenge with flying colors. However the final part—a vivid polyphony of dancers—didn’t deliver the expected fireworks.

A regular guest of the Théâtre de la Ville, Childs is preaching to the converted there. “Dance” was performed by the Lyon Opera Ballet this time. Versed in contemporary dance, the Lyon-based company doesn’t lack virtuoso balletic quality but the interpretation of Childs’ vocabulary was slightly stiff at times.

Endlessly spinning and jumping, dancers bring a hypnotizing effect to the audience. Watching them move tirelessly on Philip Glass’ psychedelic music feels as hallucinatory as time-suspending. “Dance’s” vintage minimalism still captivates today. But the masterpiece status it earned might falter in the course of time as the choreographer’s shadow is slowly fading away.

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