A postmodern dance celebration: Constellation Lucinda Childs

Mercat de les Flors, Barcelona
March 2-5, 2023

American choreographer Lucinda Childs is an icon of postmodern dance. Barcelona’s Mercat de les Flors celebrated her work in Constellation Lucinda Childs, a programme of live performances, film, talks and exhibition.

The first of three live dance programmes featured Actus… and DANCE.

Childs worked closely with Noellie Conjeaud at the Ballet de l’Opéra de Lyon as choreographer for DANCE (1979), choosing her to replace herself in Sol LeWeitt’s film that accompanied the piece, and then much later when creating La Grande Fugue (2016). Now she has made Actus… for her.

Danced to the piano version of Actus Tragicus, Johann Sebastian Bach’s sacred cantata, Actus… follows the music in tapping into the human desire to make sense of chaotic events. The solo is combined with a compilation of excerpts from Childs’ works in silence, and is inspired by the incredible spirit of the Ukrainian people. After the show, she reflected that the piece is a way to look onward und upward in relation to the unbearable catastrophe happening in their country.

Actus… opens in silence while Conjeaud moves gently in elegant yet simple poses. A sense of gravity infuses the theatre as she penetrates the silence with her precise and delicate movement. When the cantata begins, a deeper sense of tragedy is added to the solemn dance, and to the experience itself.

Childs’s intention is realised beautifully in choreography that gives a sense of hope and order in spite of chaos and its ominous presence. Conjeaud very much makes the solo hers. As the piece unfolds, it reflects resilience in the face of difficulties, and a way to go forwards despite adversity, in a combination of movement that searches balance in the midst of chaotic and tragic events.

DANCE by Lucinda Childs
Photo Agathe Poupeney

DANCE is one of the landmark works, a pinnacle of postmodern dance, a minimalist dance form that relies strongly on the intrinsic language of the body and its fascinating endurance.

What was Childs’ first major work started as a collaboration with composer Philip Glass and artist Sol LeWitt. Performed by 17 dancers, it sees dance and music merge in flux of strength and repetition. The original film by LeWitt (which has been reshot with the dancers of the Ballet de l’Opéra de Lyon) is screened on a gauze between the audience and the live performers, the layering producing a hypnotic fracture between stage and background. At times, that makes it difficult to focus on the live dancers, but also creates a double dimension that fully engages the concentration and pulls you in.

The energetic and repetitive music is danced beautifully and precisely by the dancers who show strong commitment and accuracy to Childs’ 1979 choreography. Like lightning, they quickly appear from one side of the stage only to disappear into the other. It’s ceaseless stream of comings and goings made me think of buzzing central train stations, everyone rushing, going away and eventually returning, the same images repeating but with some transformations along the way.

Dance On Ensemble in Works in Silence
Photo Jubal Battisti

On the second day I caught Works in Silence danced by DANCE ON Ensemble, a company funded in2015 by the Berlin-based non-profit organisation Bureau Ritter as part of the Dance On Initiative, which celebrates the artistic excellence of dancers over 40 and explores the relationship between dance and age, both on stage and in society.

Created in 2020, Works in Silence is a collection of Childs’ early works from a decisive phase in her career as she left behind props, objects, the spoken word and symbolic movement of her Judson Dance Theatre years and focused on the essence of first movement, which for her is the act of walking.

The series of works actually include walking, running, changes of direction and soft jumping. The collection illustrates the evolution from movement to dance through her choreographic vision. Repetition is again very present. This time, due to small dynamic changes in the various phases, it also gives time to think about the score and the fascination that Childs has for geometry, reiteration and order.

Ruth Childs in Pastime by Lucinda Childs
Photo Gregory Batardon

The third and final day of Constellation Lucinda Childs saw Ruth Childs, the choreographer’s niece perform Judson Program, a revival of three solos created and performed by Lucinda Childs herself at the Judson Dance Theatre: Pastime, her first solo, performed in January 1963; Carnation, from 1964 and in which she uses domestic objects like a colander, kitchen sponges, and hair rollers in comic ways; and Museum Piece from 1965.

As part of the show, Ruth explained how “We tried two be as close as possible to the original versions, knowing that there are no film archives of [Lucinda’s] solo during the Judson period. Lucinda gave me very exact choreographic indications. She shared anecdotes and archives from that period. She then left me with room to explore my own way to perform the 3 solos. With the exception of Carnation, these solos are quite unknown and have never been presented outside of the new generation of audiences to discover they are historic pieces.”

The solos are strongly performative. There is no dance but rather an engagement with props with which she interacts playfully and mischievously yet with deep concentration and precision. The sketches are unpretentious and slightly humorous. Despite their simplicity and experimental nature, they are also rather appealing, especially considering when and where they were created.

Ruth Childs in Museum Piece by Lucinda Childs
Photo Gregory Batardon

All in all, the constellation dedicated to Lucinda Childs was an enjoyable, pleasant experience. It was a way to tap into the history of dance through some of her creations, and to listen to such an icon of dance as she generously and with some gentle humour answered the numerous questions asked by the audience at Mercat de les Flors.