Judson Now Writer-in-Residence Danielle Goldman on An Evening with Lucinda Childs
November 15, 2012
THE WEIGHT OF THE PAST
In “An Evening with Lucinda Childs,” the choreographer performed excerpts from two solos that premiered at the Judson Memorial Church in the early sixties: Pastime (1963) and Screen (1965). The solos provided a glimpse into Childs’s early use of objects and the ways in which several Judson choreographers embraced chance as a way to distance choreograpy from habit, desire, and ego. “There’s nothing personal going on here,” Childs pronounced in Screen, while using a hand-held mirror to navigate between colored discs on the floor that were meant to be a magnified fragment of Seurat’s painting Le Cirque.
In addition to offering audiences an opportunity to see reconstructions of these early Judson works (of which videos do not exist), the evening gave those in attendance a chance to witness Childs, now 72 years old, as a performer. In her New York Times review of the evening, Gia Kourlas aptly described Childs as possessing an “unflappable power.”[i] In the Q & A session that concluded the evening, an audience member (who was also an aspiring performer) expressed admiration for Childs’s clarity and presence on stage. He noted that, when the lights came up, it looked as though Childs could have been standing there forever.
These observations about Childs’s performance presence led to discussions about training and preparation during the Judson era. Childs noted that much of her early work with objects (particularly in her well-known solo, Carnation (1964)) arose out of her interest in the question: “how do you make choreography if you’re not going to use anything from a dance vocabulary?” It was ironic, Childs noted, that many of the Judson choreographers continued to study ballet, even as they tried to investigate the philosophies of John Cage. “We were all studying ballet in the morning,” Childs explained, “then we’d go to the studio to move mattresses.” Breaks with tradition are seldom absolute. Moreover, it’s not always clear how one ought to prepare for a kind of performance that is not yet recognizable or institutionalized.
The night concluded with a young choreographer explaining that, when trying to choreograph today, he can’t help but reckon with the work of the Judson Dance Theater. “How are you thinking about past work?” he asked. Childs responded that she now has an unprecedented freedom to “move around in the material.” It was unclear how that sense of freedom arose for Childs – whether it resulted from the stature she has achieved as a mature artist, or whether it simply was the result of time passing. Perhaps it had something to do with broader contemporary interests in reconstructing past performances. Nevertheless, the evening concluded with a stark contrast: a young, aspiring choreographer describing the burdensome weight of the Judson era, while Childs described it as a terrain that was open for travel.
[i] Gia Kourlas, “The Timeless Dancer, Forever Stretching: Lucinda Childs at Danspace Project,” The New York Times, September 18, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/19/arts/dance/lucinda-childs-at-danspace-project.html?_r=0