Lucinda Childs Dance Company: Dance
Tuesday, Feb. 7
UNC’s Memorial Hall, Chapel Hill

The Glass at 80 festival (ongoing at Carolina Performing Arts through this weekend), a ten-day celebration of composer Philip Glass’s eightieth birthday, displays the composer’s cross-genre influence as well as his concert music. The festival brings to light Glass’s respect for the creative interpretation of others. He has collaborated with theater artists, opera directors, and film directors. Choreographers often came with a production, but after working with Lucinda Childs on Einstein on the Beach, Glass joined her to create something directly for the dance world in 1979.

Dance, which was performed at Memorial Hall on Tuesday evening, is widely revered for breaking ground in its mixture of dance by Childs and projections by Sol LeWitt, with music by Glass. LeWitt, known for enormous wall-size paintings, spliced and stacked images of Childs’s dancers to create a literal motion picture that the dancers onstage moved with. The result is still exhilarating, the two-dimensional dancers from the past refreshed by the three-dimensional immediacy of the live ones. The black-and-white film, juxtaposed with Beverly Emmons’s often colorful lighting, creates constant contrasts.

Childs is an accomplished choreographer who was recently awarded the 2017 Scripps Award from the American Dance Festival. Through her collaborations with Glass, she became a leader in abstract minimalism. In Dance, steps are repeated and backtracked, rarely shifting to new combinations. But shifts do occur, when we think we’ve settled into a routine, and it makes the evening as exciting as it must have been in 1979.

Imagine Dance being performed then, when this idiom, now the norm, was little known, and choreographers like Martha Graham and Twyla Tharp were using orchestral and musical theater as modes of experimentation. Whereas narrative and emotion is at the center of Graham and Tharp’s works, Childs’s dancers are almost always devoid of emotion. Though there are fleeting moments of visual irony when dancers abruptly stop or an established combination does not reappear, Childs’s limited movement allows for endless possibilities in the space around her dancers, technique and form united in constant motion.