Concert #13, A Collaborative Event, Judson Dance Theater, 1963. PC Peter Moore, Courtesy MoMA
In the early 1960s, a group of dancers started questioning the existing rules of choreography. Influenced by John Cage, they created dances that were startling in their simplicity and risk-taking. Yvonne Rainer, Steve Paxton, Trisha Brown, David Gordon, Deborah Hay, Elaine Summers and Lucinda Childs were all part of this group. Most of them had studied or danced with Anna Halprin or Simone Forti. Visual artists like Robert Rauschenberg and Alex Hay were part of this cauldron of experimentation as well as composer Philip Corner.
The Museum of Modern Art has mounted an expansive exhibit called "Judson Dance Theater: The Work Is Never Done." It gathers photos, artwork, scores, objects and films that bring the period alive. If you get there before January 16, you'll see the films of Brown's early work. Her piece Walking on the Wall was so disorienting that it was almost hallucinatory. (Actually, this film and most of the Brown pieces are from the 70s.) Playing with perception was a big part of the Judson and post-Judson eras.
Lucinda Childs Dance will give its final performances during MoMA's "Judson Dance Theater: The Work Is Never Done" exhibition. Photo by Julieta Cervantes, Courtesy Pomegranate Arts
At 78, Lucinda Childs is about to pivot—again. The postmodern choreographer and director came to prominence in the 1960s and '70s, first with Judson Dance Theater and then with her own eponymous company. She shut down her troupe almost two decades ago to work as a freelance director, relaunched it nine years later to stage a couple of revivals...and then just kept going. We spoke to her as the company was getting ready to wrap up its final season, which included a summer staging of Available Light—a 1983 work developed with John Adams and Frank Gehry—at Lincoln Center's Mostly Mozart Festival, as well as final performances Oct. 29–Nov. 4 at New York City's Museum of Modern Art.
Ten years ago I stood outside the New 42nd Street Studios near Times Square in New York City, freezing in a very long line, waiting to audition for Lucinda Childs. I thought about leaving after an announcement was made that dancers who did not register, like me, would not be seen. Today, I am on a plane home from Abu Dhabi where the Lucinda Childs Dance Company just gave its final performance of her 1979 masterpiece, DANCE, at The Performing Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi. Lucinda will be the first to say that she asked to see all the dancers waiting outside in 2008, and I am certainly grateful to my 24 year-old self for sticking around to see what would happen.
DANCE is the first piece of Lucinda's choreography I learned and it was the first piece that her newly-formed company performed. The process of learning the work presented its challenges; there were tears and much needed pep talks from family and castmates. But I fell in love with DANCE,too. For close to ten years, I was fortunate to dance this evening-length work all over the world. I'm not entirely sure I'm ready to say good-bye.
The Blanket performs Lucinda Childs: The Early Works. Photo by Ben Viatori, Courtesy The Blanket.
Intermittent quacking issued from the Just Ducky Tours amphibious vehicle floating along the Monongahela River. Revolutionary War–era reenactors recreated historical events at Fort Pitt. Bridge traffic rumbled overhead. This ambient symphony at Pittsburgh's Point State Park accompanied The Blanket as the dancers rehearsed and performed Lucinda Childs: The Early Works, a retrospective of four architectural, pedestrian works choreographed by the award-winning, post-modern dance maven between 1975 and 1978.
The Blanket, a project-by-project driven ensemble established in 2016 by Matt Pardo and Caitlin Scranton, aims to enhance Pittsburgh's modern dance community through reconstructions, commissions and collaborations with noted choreographers. Last weekend's presentation, which included Childs' Radial Courses, Katema, Reclining Rondo and Interior Drama, marked its first major presentation, challenging the dancers to perform the intricate choreography originally set to silence in an ambient, unpredictable soundscape.