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Nothing but 'Dance'

By turning to the abstract, artists were liberated from having to depict something, at least according to the traditional narrative means used by painters and sculptors of the past. Abstract dance choreography would follow the same course: freed from its historic role -- to tell a story in gesture -- choreography could produce nothing more than a visual delight in movement and shape, paired with music concerned not with character or narrative but only rhythmic patterns. This was the goal of Dance, the ground-breaking collaboration of dancer and choreographer Lucinda Childs and composer Philip Glass in 1979, experienced on Friday night at the Clarice Smith Center in College Park, part of the company's national tour. The original project followed Childs's partnership with Philip Glass and Robert Wilson on that grand experimental failure Einstein on the Beach, the sort of work that will be mentioned as a watershed event in every history of opera but that has no performing life of its own. A few years later, Childs and Glass produced a work for her dance company, five numbers with music by Glass that they called Dance 1-5.

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P. Glass, Dance Nos. 1-5
Abstract geometric artist Sol LeWitt made film versions of the first production, which included only three of the five sections. To mark the work's 30th anniversary, at the Bard Festival in 2009, Childs created a new version of Dance, with live dancers performing in sync with those recorded in LeWitt's film, projected on a transparent scrim in front of the stage. At some times one sees only the projected dancers, at others only the live ones, with manipulations of the film frame making possible various juxtapositions of the two -- side by side or one behind or above the other. The choreography is geometrical, avoiding any touching between dancers the way Mondrian avoided non-primary colors and curving lines. The dancers moved across an abstract, Mondrian-like grid, coming close to another but without overlapping. In the first part, pairs of dancers cross left and right, women in front and men in back, in tandem or in contrapuntal imitation, like dux and comes.

Other Articles:

Sarah Kaufman, Just ‘Dance’: Work by Lucinda Childs captures the essence of the art form (Washington Post, April 23)

---, Lucinda Childs’s ‘Dance,’ back in motion at the University of Maryland (Washington Post, April 15)

Andrew Freedman, Dancing with themselves (University of Maryland Diamondback, April 19)

Euan Kerr, Controversial dance returns 30 years after first run (Minnesota Public Radio, April 7)

Caroline Palmer, 'Dance' from 1979: This ain't no disco (Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 8)

---, 'Dance' moves toward acceptance (Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 1)

Roslyn Sulcas, Simple Movements, Complex Patterns (New York Times, October 7, 2009)
As the music's bubbling arpeggiated patterns are recombined, this basic idea of crossing pairs becomes more complex and repetitions are layered over one another. Larger groups cross together, but the closest we come to some kind of personal union is toward the end, as the male dancer crosses toward the front to move next to his partner. The mathematical abstraction is reinforced by the vocal lines in Glass's score, set with the only text being the corresponding solfege syllables, another connection to Einstein on the Beach.

The triple meter of the outer sections is squared by a shift to 4/4 in the second. With a basic vocabulary of twirling, strides, and arm swings, a single dancer moves around the stage in a diamond pattern and along a central axis from back to front. The tall, lithe Caitlin Scranton mirrors the image of Lucinda Childs herself, featured in the film in the second part of Dance. The more austere music, played in the recording by Glass and Michael Riesman with a more rock-style bass, and the rather spartan choreography are wearying after a while, reinforcing the idea that the streamlining of Dance from five to three movements gave it a much-needed concision and tighter structure. The third section returns to the flying, almost weightless choreography of the first, with the music giving buoyant metric shifts by playing with the cross-relationships of 3/4 and 6/8.

This new version of Dance continues on its tour to San Francisco (April 28 to 30), Los Angeles (May 6 and 7), and Santa Barbara (May 10).

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