Three decades ago audiences in Minneapolis and other cities noisily walked out on "Dance" by postmodern choreographer Lucinda Childs. They decided the minimalist work didn't deliver on the simple premise of its title. Thursday night a revival received a standing ovation at the Walker Art Center. And for good reason, since this 1979 work not only marks a singular moment in an artist's career but also in the trajectory of dance history itself.
"Dance" is performed in three 20-minute sections by a cast of 11 dressed identically in white tops, pants and shoes. There's no easing into this piece. The recorded score by Philip Glass rushes forth with a rich operatic sensation of layered instrumentation and vocals. The dancers travel in patterns that seem repetitive and basic (small leaps, running steps, quick adjustments of balance). But as "Dance" gathers momentum the movement and music spiral into one another. Slight variations in phrasing, quick shifts in perspective, dynamic changes in energy and the sense of time's constant pace make for an almost diabolical complexity. The dancers embrace it all with serene confidence.
Expanding upon this potent sensory experience is visual artist Sol LeWitt's film of the dancers who first performed the work. The images -- some life-size, others bigger-than-life or multiplied -- coordinate with the action onstage. Occasionally the film's events unfold on a grid so the live performers seem transported into an environment defined by symmetry and precision.
The film also serves as a time machine. In the second part a younger Childs appears onscreen and the music takes a baroque turn, befitting her angular elegance. Caitlin Scranton performs Childs' movements onstage in a solo built on walking and skipping, but swinging arms are also prominent. Unlike the other sections in which the dancers of past and present appear as equals, Scranton subtly follows Childs' lead, echoing her moves with cool reverence.
The group returns for the final section. Although the dancers never touch, a strong bond exists in the spaces between them and the way they flow past one another with calm efficiency. There is bliss in the building rhythms of the music and the unadorned movement. This may be a 20th-century work but it could be performed any time and still capture the divine urgency of the moment.
- Caroline Palmer writes regularly about dance.