Minimalism can’t win. When the movement emerged in the 1960s, its practitioners—particularly composers like Philip Glass—were accused of abandoning the thorny thickets of the avant-garde for a simplistic, crowd-pleasing, and (how bourgie!) tonal sound. On the other side, Minimalists were accused of being not accessible enough: to many, their work seemed cold, inhuman, mathematical. Such was the initial reaction by many to the 1979 debut of Lucinda Childs’s Dance, created in collaboration with Glass and with visual artist Sol LeWitt.
32 years later, Dance is regarded as, per the Walker Art Center’s website, “a modern classic.” It’s being revived at the Walker this weekend—30 years after its initial presentation there—and every seat on each of the three tiers of the McGuire Theater was taken for Thursday night’s performance. Childs and Glass watched from the front row, and were greeted with a standing ovation when they joined the dancers at the curtain call.
|dance, presented through april 9 at the walker art center. for tickets and information, see walkerart.org.|
Still, Dance remains a stiff drink for those who like their movement to come with a little narrative. The unenlightening title of the piece is not a cop-out: anything more informative would seem almost baroque as a name for this dance, which might have been constructed from equations. Its three creators were perfect complements; in movement, music, and visual design (LeWitt created projections of dancers, which appear on a scrim across the stage), Dance starts from simple elements that build and develop in fractal multiplication. There’s no more story to it than there is to the shapes drawn by the pendulum-driven pen at the Science Museum of Minnesota.
And yet the piece has developed a story over the past three decades. Though the cast of dancers are new—at least some of them were likely not even born when the piece originally debuted—the projections are original, featuring dancers filmed in the 1970s. Most dramatically, there is a solo by Childs herself, who looms large on the screen as we watch Caitlin Scranton replicate her movements behind the scrim. It’s a striking, moving visual representation of the passing of a torch.
An audience survey distributed to attendees asked, among other things, whether there was any dancer to whom we particularly related. On the surface that seems like a strange question where Dance is concerned—how can you relate to an equation?—but I immediately thought of one male dancer who at one point paused near my stage-left seat. He was breathing hard and sweating from the exertion, and he glanced nervously up at his counterpart on the scrim, a man who had danced 32 years earlier, to make sure that he was doing the right thing.