Lucinda Childs is heralded as both a pioneer of minimalism and postmodernism, and in her mesmerising signature DANCE from 1979 you can see the two movements collide. Here progress falters, the teleological arrow of history is broken down into patterned recurrence, exception and variation. The body becomes a linear expressive mechanism, while exploded across time and space by video techniques. The piece, at the same time as being grandly gestural, and audaciously albeit decisively spectacular, is minutely self-referential, presenting its own containment as a virtue.
White clad dancers stream across the stage in straight lines, simple arabesques which halt and glide. Fittingly for the choreographer of Einstein on the Beach, there is a definite atomic age quality to the arrangements of bodies, which pulse like a power grid and blip like radar. With bare costumes (from A. Christina Giannini) bathed in green light in a simple but profoundly effective final dance of the three, the dancers flash like cursors on a monochrome monitor. Another metaphor for its light and persistent regularity: raindrops hurtling down a window pane, the overwhelming sense of a singularity of direction and the variance which each drop creates as it encounters small invisible resistances.
This strong flexible minimalism, so graceful in its method, is met with historical convergence of Phillip Glass in peak form. His score, like Messiaen committed to graph paper, is cathedral-like. Operatic voice samples chime like bells. Uniform scurrying refrains return in glorious moments of pop recognition; recognition over resolution as the two minimalisms conjoin in propulsive lightness. To hear the music alone, with the clarity of the Barbican sound system, would be worth a night out in itself. To see the score mirrored and trod, the moments in which the complexity of time signature is outpaced by the choreography, is to be immersed in layers of complexity which bely the apparent simplicity of the piece. Here is the sense of tremendous incalculably calculative energy; the regulated thrashing which has the swan glide.
Sol LeWitt’s projections loom from a vast semi-transparent screen that covers the entire football field of the proscenium arch, showing delicately-edited footage from the 1979 performance, and serving to distort both space and time. Appearing and disappearing in panels, shot from various angles of height, they introduce simulated new dimensions, at points splitting the space vertically as if creating a second floor, then coterminus with the live bodies creating small obtusely angled apron across which the dancers collide. Black and white with fine grain like snow, they take us back and create something moving, and at the same time to the fresher nervier point of departure for the piece. We see the grid-marked original stage offset by fluttering arms, full of quirk and vivid casualness of the 70s; whereas the arms tonight appear more solid, more studied, and dancing on the gridless stage, more flowing and sinuous. This gap in style makes it feel that you were watching two very different pieces, at the same time giving us a comparative peep, at the adaptations and variances that lay at the heart of performances that are forever doomed, existing as they do in finite space and time, to end – but also to be reborn, here thirty years later, in fitting circularity.
To put the cinematic flourish aside, there is an astonishing clarity about Child’s choreographic structures, but at the same time a mathematical obscurantism. The air of total planning toward maximum utility is fresh, and in the end, within the engine-room of this conceptual yacht of a piece, too fresh to feel particularly postmodern at all.