An Art of Refusal: Lucinda Childs’ Dances in Silence, 1973–78

by Suzanne Carbonneau

In 2013 American choreographer Lucinda Childs celebrated her fiftieth year of making dances and directing operas. More than half of that time—from 1981 onward—she lived and worked in Europe, where her work has been presented widely and honored with major accolades.1 In the United States her absence has come with a cost. Several generations of American dance audiences, including artists and critics, have limited knowledge of her artistic development, and her work has been all but absent from discussions of postmodernist American choreography.

Childs is historically cited for two particular works in her career: the extended dance sequences (and original solo performance role) in the opera Einstein on the Beach (which premiered in Avignon, France, in 1976), and the choreography for Dance (1979). Both of these were collaborations. The four-and-half hour Einstein she realized with theater director Robert Wilson and composer Philip Glass, and the evening-length Dance with Glass and visual artist Sol LeWitt. Recent revivals of these works—Dance in 2009 and Einstein in 2012—introduced Childs to many for the first time while reminding others of just what they had been missing all these years. Music critic Alex Ross, writing in The New Yorker, noted that for him it was during the first of the “Field Dances” in Einstein when “the bliss kicked in. It was a feeling of abstract intellectual delight, a pure interplay of musical and physical motion.”2 Ross’ reaction echoes that of another delighted critic, Alan M. Kriegsman, writing about Dance more than three decades ago. Dance was “a genuine breakthrough,” he claimed, “defining for us new modes of perception and feeling and clearly belonging as much to the future as to the present.”3

Lucinda Childs in Dance (1979). Photo © Nathaniel Tileston. Courtesy of Pomegranate Arts.

As part of its research into questions of cultural practice, The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage (the Center) documented Childs and her artistic associate Ty Boomershine as they restaged four of her mid-1970s “dances in silence” on a cast of Philadelphia dancers between 2011 and 2013. These works—Reclining Rondo (1975), Melody Excerpt (1977), Interior Drama (1977), and Katema (1978)—as well as four others, were performed live, video-taped, and are presented here in this publication for posterity. Of the other four, one—a dance in silence titled Radial Courses (1976)—was presented in Philadelphia following a restaging at Sarah Lawrence College, Childs’ alma mater,4 and three were added from Childs’ tenure with the Judson Dance Theater—Pastime (1963), Street Dance (1964), and Museum Piece (1965).5

The dances in silence are from a pivotal period in Childs’ career, one that began with her departure from Judson Dance Theater in New York and ended with her move to Europe. If the Judson years were full of experimenting with objects, text, improvisation, and expressionistic performance material, the following decade was dedicated to stripping much of this away to focus on movement patterns. In total, she choreographed sixteen dances in silence.6 It was these works, in fact, that determined the landmark Einstein’s movement sensibility as well as the choreography for Dance.

Discovering her Limits

“In 1966,” Childs told filmmaker Patrick Bensard, “I felt that I needed to step outside of the world of objects and materials. I wanted to get back to movement, to simple movement ideas, without depending so much on the manipulation of objects and materials.”7 To do so, she pulled away at first from the dance scene that had been consuming her energy, and for several years taught primary education in New York City’s public schools, while reading art history and theory on her own and maintaining only occasional engagement with dance.8 She returned to choreographing in 1973 by revisiting Untitled Trio (1968/73), which she had presented in embryonic form in 1968 in a one-off showing at Judson Memorial Church that was an exception to her personal retreat from dance. Untitled Trio would eventually provide the seeds of an unorthodox turn; in it, she jettisoned the compositional structures that she had employed at Judson.

Untitled Trio (1973). Dancers left to right are Janice Paul, Judy Padow, and Danny Tai. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Photo © 1973 Babette Mangolte. Courtesy of the artist and Broadway 1602, New York.

Yvonne Rainer, upon seeing the early version of Untitled Trio in 1968, recognized the radical new direction implied by the dance, and wrote to the younger choreographer to encourage her return to choreographic practice. Rainer was particularly impressed by the way that Childs capitalized on deliberately restricted means, an ethos that Rainer—alone among Judsonites—commended. She admired Childs for her willingness to pursue “an extraordinary sense of the limits of a choreographic situation—and by that I don’t mean limitations but rather how far you can go with a given set of materials (I think I am the only other one in our bunch who holds this as a value)—a discipline and discernment that can produce unexpected results with whatever means are at hand.”9 While Childs did not have the heart in 1968 to continue to develop that material—she had considered herself finished with choreography forever at that point—she was buoyed by Rainer’s belief in her.

Childs resumed work on Untitled Trio in 1973, revising the choreography according to ideas she had been gestating about spatial schemes, in which the dancers remained in parallel or perpendicular relationship to each other. “While movement activity and spatial patterns are constantly repeated in each of the three sections,” she has written, “the relationships that exist between the three dancers with respect to their arrangements in space, is constantly changing, exposing further diversification, subdivisions, and reversals of the previously existing one.”10 She devised a structure in which group unison was circumvented by a carefully calculated scheme of spatial and temporal modulations: “The dancers were continually grouped and regrouped in changing combinations of two in unison against one, moving further and further out in the space, and eventually proliferating the entire 40 foot x 40 foot area…Thus while the material was repetitive,” she continued, “the same thing was never seen twice; there was always a variation in the movement sequence itself, or its speed, or its location in space, or finally, in the relationship (parallel or perpendicular) that one dancer had with the others.”11 The newly revised Untitled Trio was presented at the Whitney Museum of American Art in December 1973.12 That same year, she established her eponymous dance company.

Courtesy of Lucinda Childs.

In establishing the foundations for her mature and original style in the dances from the 1970s, Childs focused on developing choreography that stood on its own terms: movement in time and space devised within mathematically derived structures, with no other elements to distract, embellish, overwhelm, or otherwise demand attention.13 Dance—in pure and simple terms—would stand on its own, without accompanying music, propelled by a steady internal pulse. A substantial focus in rehearsal, once the structure of the choreography was set, was establishing the correct meter for the dance. “I think it’s very musical for dancers to share a pulse,” she says. “They have to listen to each other. That’s what a musical ensemble does. They tune in to each other in a very precise way.”14

Developing a Practice

During the 1970s, Childs developed a studio practice she would follow for the rest of her career. In beginning a dance, she created alone, devising the core movement material on her own body. She established the themes intuitively, improvising until she found vocabulary and phrasing that interested her. She was careful to choose steps that were elementary and unaffected. She began with walking and a few more basic movements: jumping, hopping, turning, and skipping. These steps had been a motif not uncommon to the vernacular-styled movement choices of many choreographers at Judson.15 But here, Childs gave these movements a different emphasis, infusing them with the propulsion of a vivacious tempo, rhythmically transforming them into something that looked much closer to traditional dance phrasing.

Once Childs set the movement material and devised a structural framework, she brought the company into the studio to work out the patterns that would build the dance through a process of trial-and-error. The choreographer and the dancers developed sequences by changing directions, varying the number of repetitions of each phrase, and shifting the relationships among the dancers until the desired geometric, mathematical, and spatial relationships had been achieved. The goal was to systematically accumulate subtle modifications until the material seemed limitless. “Identical phrase sequences are consistently repeated but are subject to reversals, subdivisions, inversions, reordering in the space, and displacement from one dancer to another,” Childs wrote in 1975. “Thus, the same thing is seen again and again but never in exactly the same way.”16 She was interested in building up a succession of minute changes over the course of the dance: “One phrase and another shift very gradually so you don’t have very strong contrast in movement, but a very slight one. And as a result the experience of the dance is really to stay in a very restricted frame of content but to experience a multitude of shifts in terms of time and space.”17 The effect created a paradox: while nothing seems to change (the steady, relentless physical vocabulary; the brisk, unvarying pace), everything seems to change (the dancers end on the opposite diagonal from where they started; or they synch up in the same spatial pattern only to take it apart again). One of the deep pleasures of these dances is watching the dancers arrive in synchrony as multiple patterns suddenly converge.

When Childs began composing in modular movement units or patterns, she realized that there was a universe of possibilities that had opened up to her. While severely restricted, the material never exhausted itself. Rather, it seemed to multiply. “Any of these ten-minute dances could actually go on for three or more hours if I used the possibilities, which I don’t. I’ve selected possibilities but within a very strict framework.”18

Reclining Rondo

After the Whitney concert, Childs spent the next year working on three new dances that extended the structural ideas she had begun there. In March 1975, she presented the results in a program that included Reclining Rondo at the YMCA in Nyack, New York. The title refers to the dancers’ recumbent positions on the floor, which are reminiscent of the poses of nudes in classical figure painting. Childs says that Reclining Rondo was an exploration of “systems, which perpetuate the same material, yet continually present the same material in new ways.”19

Reclining Rondo was inspired by Untitled (L-Beams), Robert Morris’ groundbreaking sculpture first shown in New York in 1965, which consists of three identical forms presented in different orientations in the gallery.20 Childs cites Morris’ artwork as “a perfect example of the John Cage/Marcel Duchamp philosophy that content is not in and of itself as important as the mental process that the observer is put through in observing the work.”21 Childs vividly remembers walking into the gallery in 1965 and being stunned by what L-Beams accomplished with such simple means.22 For a decade, she harbored the force of its conceptual implications, before embarking on Reclining Rondo, determined to translate Morris’ aesthetic imperative into movement form.

Courtesy of Lucinda Childs.

In this dance Childs limited herself to only two versions of a single phrase: one done on the right side of the body, and the same movement performed on the left. With the dancers, she spent months working through the structural permutations produced by these simple and restricted manipulations because it was impossible to work through conceptually. "It’s too complicated,” she said of the patterning. “You have to see it to be able to understand how to make it happen, especially these long phrases. It’s impossible to anticipate ahead of time—if you don’t know which phrase, right or left, how they start—which way it’s going to move them in the space.”23

Childs was also interested in Morris’ idea that each spectator’s point of view creates a unique version of the artwork.24 At her Whitney concert the audience had been seated on all sides for that reason. In 1978, Childs told Eric Franck that her strategy of composing by permuting “very, very simple material” accomplished something similar. Her goal, she said, was to “rearrange it in such a way that you constantly are presented with material from a different point of view, the idea being that you essentially dislodge the audience from perceiving anything from any one way.”25

In its methodology of propelling the dancers through geometric floor patterns by alternating movement phrases on each side of the body, Reclining Rondo conjures the foundational experience of learning to dance. Childs drew on her years spent in ballet class—where exercises done on one side of the body are always repeated on the other—as well as on her studies with choreographer Merce Cunningham, who also had his students repeat even the most complex phrase in the opposite direction. The dance begins with three performers arrayed across the space in precise relationship. Over the course of the dance, they perform an 18-count phrase 12 times in strict unison, with each dancer varying the phrase to the right or left in a specified sequence. The phrase rotates the dancers 225 degrees, so Childs had to build in variations that changed the performers’ relationships to the room (with diagonal, parallel, or perpendicular orientations) as well as to each other (parallel or perpendicular). A body roll in the middle of the phrase was also employed to change the dancers’ location in space. Arrayed equidistantly along a diagonal, the mid-stage dancer is anchored in space, while—almost imperceptibly over the course of the dance—the upstage dancer moves from stage right to left and the downstage dancer from stage left to right. By the end of the work, the diagonal on which they had all begun had been rotated a full 180 degrees.26

The lesson that Childs took away from the process of creating Reclining Rondo was that “each move matters; it creates a different configuration.” But in attempting to shift the dancers from one diagonal to another using only the variation of performing a phrase on the left or right—“That’s why it takes so many moves to happen,” Childs notes—she had to be patient in allowing for a multitude of repetitions. Rondo was so complex in its mathematical and spatial patterning that Childs realized she could not rely on cognitive or muscle memories to keep track of them. Any future cast changes would be impossible unless she devised a means to record the dance’s structure. To solve this dilemma, she created a visual score—a diagrammatic chart, created with architectural elements—for each of the dancers. Childs adopted this system of visual scoring to document her work for the remainder of her career.27

Score for Reclining Rondo. Courtesy of Lucinda Childs.

Radial Courses

Deeply engaged in her research, Childs seemed unconcerned with assembling a repertory that could be mixed and matched among various programs, in the conventional concert dance tradition. She was interested only in moving ahead in her choreographic research. She took nearly another year to prepare her next concert of three new works, which took place in January 1976 at Washington Square Methodist Church in New York City. Among these dances was Radial Courses.28 Because of a simple variation in timing, and because the dancers follow individualized but intersecting courses through space, this dance seems even more complex than Reclining Rondo.

Radial Courses. Dancers left to right: Cynthia Hedstrom, Lucinda Childs, Andé Peck, and Judy Padow. Festival International de la Danse, Théâtre Champs-Elysées, Paris, November 1977. Photo © 1977 Babette Mangolte. Courtesy of the artist and Gallery 1602, New York.

In Radial Courses, four dancers travel in unison at the fastest pace that they can sustain over the course of the dance. The dancers mark out individual circular pathways, which are the same size and whose centers are equidistant from each other. (Though the pathways are distinct, they overlap.) The dance consists of three phrases, each of which covers a unique distance, within the same time span. In the walking phrase, the dancers travel halfway around their individual circles. A skip-hop phrase moves the dancer three-quarters of the way around that circle. An additional skip-hop phrase does the same, but this iteration adds an additional turn. The result is that the dancers performing the two skip-hop phrases in tandem fall out of synchrony by one beat with each repetition. And there is yet another alteration in the patterns devised by Childs, mined from Reclining Rondo—that is, Childs also has the dancers switch the phrase from one side of the body to another. While the dancers begin at the same point on the edge of their circles and maintain the same beat, they finish their phrases at different points on the circles, depending not only on their particular phrase combinations but also, with yet another variation, on whether their pattern requires them to switch the phrases from left to right, or vice versa. The structure is completed and the dance ends when the performers arrive once again in synchrony.

Melody Excerpt

In November 1977 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Childs presented Melody Excerpt, a work that made use of variations that were designed to intensify transformations in the choreographic patterning. In addition to the now-familiar variation of switching phrases from one side of the body to the other, she upped the ante of possible complications by using five dancers. This allowed her to play two dancers against three, or four against one, creating asymmetric patterns. She also used the three long phrases of movement she developed for the work in consciously more labyrinthine ways. These phrases—a diagonal phrase, a looping phrase, and a return phrase—begin and end at the same time but at different places in space, a pattern evident in the score. The same figure is never repeated in the same way; the phrases take each dancer to a different place in space, never returning the dancer to the point of origination. Childs’ choreography now deployed longer phrases, more embrangled relationships that shifted among groups moving in and out of unison, phrases that repeated but never in the same configuration, and complex mathematical patterning. Childs explains that the title Melody Excerpt derives from its three movement phrases, which were counted in tens. Because most works of western music and dance are structured around four- or eight-count phrases, the addition of two counts in Melody Excerpt leaves the viewer hanging, waiting for the phrase to end as expected.29 The resultant thwarting of the familiar is experienced by the viewer as a kind of hiccup. Thus, the melody is “excerpted.”

Melody Excerpt score, restored by the Northeast Document Conservation Center, Andover, MA. Courtesy of Lucinda Childs.

An Early Modern Influence

In developing the dances in silence, Childs drew on readings she had pursued in the practice and theory of art and dance history. While a protégé of the Judson and Cunningham nexus in the 1960s and early 1970s, Childs remained committed to ballet and modern dance training. She practiced the ‘new’ steeped in knowledge of dance and visual art traditions and and their histories. Her interest in Diaghilev-era choreography, for example, led her to study Mikhail Fokine’s Les Sylphides (1909), which she still claims as “one of my favorite ballets.”30 She was enthralled by Fokine’s elevation of the corps to the collective main character of the ballet, moving together as one body in continuously morphing architectural geometries. She was also intrigued by the simplicity of his vocabulary and design, and by the ease of the technique, which eschews pyrotechnics.31 She identified not only with Fokine’s aesthetic but with his struggles to realize his choreographic vision. Childs, too, elevates the ensemble to star status in her work. Dressed alike, the dancers function identically, performing the same movement to the same pulse: many bodies moving as one body. In Childs’ ensembles, the dancers are duplicates of each other—multiplications of an ideal, a blissful geometric order—in a postmodern evocation of the ballet blanc.32

Interior Drama

Also at BAM in November 1977, Childs presented her new quintet Interior Drama, a dance in seven sections.33 The dance contains three extremely long phrases, which are made more difficult for the dancers to keep track of because they are so similar. The five dancers, choreographed in a duet and a trio, must count through seven sections, each composed of 180 counts, for a total of 1,260 counts—at a spirited tempo of 153 beats per minute.

Interior Drama score, notated by dancer Kristi Schultz c. 1990. Courtesy of Lucinda Childs.

Despite the experimental nature of its structure and choice of vocabulary, Childs suggests that Interior Drama has roots in the work of several of her teachers and forebears. As a teenager, Childs had studied with Hanya Holm, one of the so-called “Big Four” choreographers of modern dance in the 1930s and 1940s.34 In Holm’s studio, she observed her teacher working for hours on end, single-mindedly repeating figure-eight patterns in order to extract choreographic ideas. Childs has never forgotten Holm’s powers of concentration and obsessive exploration of something seemingly elementary.35 She also notes that Interior Drama bears a relationship to folk dance in its off-kilter rhythmic elements. In the way that the dancers draw strength and rootedness from the ground, the dance also reveals the affinity for gravity characteristic of traditional modern dance. Childs notes that the title was devised as a response to Merce Cunningham’s Antic Meet (1958), which she had seen as a college student when she studied with the choreographer at the American Dance Festival in New London, Connecticut, in 1961.36


Four months after her 1977 BAM season, Childs presented the premiere of Katema on March 12, 1978, at the Stedelijk.37 In this solo, performed by Childs, these pathways converge on a single diagonal, which seems to draw the dancer ineluctably along its path. She notes that “Katema came out of ‘Character on Three Diagonals’,”38 Childs’ extended solo in Einstein on the Beach, which she first performed in 1976.

Hypnotic in the insistence of its repetition along the linear path of a long diagonal, Katema encompasses simple walking patterns, interwoven with turns and half-turns of remarkable precision. As seen in Renato Berta’s 1978 film, Childs seems to possess a magnetic force as she cleaves to the diagonal. The dance’s phrases always return to the same point, but each iteration moves her a bit farther out from the anchoring diagonal. Moving out only to be pulled back, she inches her way through the space by degrees, making her way with effort, inexorably. There is poignancy to the solo—one that suggests a quest—of advancing and retreating, forging imperceptibly ahead through force of will.

Katema was to be Childs’ last dance in silence. Even as she was choreographing this work, she was already at work on Dance, to premiere in October 1979. The full-evening collaboration with Glass and LeWitt would usher in the next phase of her artistic life. In their familial relationships, Katema and Dance demonstrate similarities in structure and methodology. For the Philadelphia restaging in 2013, Katema was reset by Childs as a work for four dancers, with two duets mirroring each other from opposite diagonals.

Letting Silence Speak

Childs salutes minimalist compositional strategies as offering possibilities for “deeply spiritual” aspiration. She could well be describing her own work when she speaks of Glass’ music as possessing “a poetic quality” through which “you are taken little by little, further and further out somewhere, out of yourself.”39 Childs’ dances present us with a world composed of simple harmonic proportions. Each of the dances in silence is structured as a mechanism that is set in motion to complete a pattern and achieve order. This mathematical logic speaks to something deeply satisfying in our natures—the delight we feel in encountering abstractions of our own Vitruvian proportions. As movement figurations are traced out in these dances, order suddenly coalesces, and phenomena that appear to be random are revealed as subject to regularity, to pattern. Childs’ structures affirm the laws of nature, reassurance that beauty resides inside chaos, waiting for its chance to emerge.

In the dances in silence, elegance is defined by withholding: Childs describes her decision-making process in terms devised by Susan Sontag—what is not chosen, what is left out, is the key to her artistic strategy. “For an artist,” Childs says, “making…decisions, is…the essence of what you are doing all the time.” Sontag sees the nature of those decisions as renunciation. “It’s interesting,” Childs continues, “that Sontag would speak of it as ‘the art of refusal’ as opposed to the art of choosing. They’re close, but they’re not the same thing. It’s such a delicate adjustment that an artist needs in order to make our work what it is.” In her essay, Sontag had called this refusal “beauty.”40

Childs’ embrace of refusal—of beauty—sets her apart from trends in the contemporary dance scene, where conceptual or expressionistic concerns dominate. With kinetic insistence, her dances continue to chart their own course, her choreography always tacking against prevailing winds. As Sontag pointed out, it was when Childs reacted against Judson and refused to embellish gesture with text or props or narrative associations—when she embraced beauty—that her career “took its true shape.”41 In the dances in silence, Childs not only matured into her means, she also matured into her ends—creating choreographic worlds where limitations engender the idea of limitlessness, where repetition is joy, and the inevitability of choices is danced.

Suzanne Carbonneau is a dance essayist, critic, biographer, and historian.

  1. 1

    In 2004, Lucinda Childs was issued the Commandeur de l’Ordre de la Légion d’honneur by the French government.

  2. 2

    Alex Ross, “Number Nine,” The New Yorker, February 13, 2012 . The “Character on Three Diagonals” dates from the original production of Einstein on the Beach in 1976; the “Field Dances” from its first revival in 1984.

  3. 3

    Alan M. Kriegsman, “Milestone in Motion,” The Washington Post, October 31, 1981, p. C1.

  4. 4

    Upon graduating as a dance major from Sarah Lawrence College in 1962, Childs began intensive study at the Cunningham studio in Greenwich Village, where she met Yvonne Rainer, who had co-organized a composition workshop with musician Robert Ellis Dunn. A disciple of composer John Cage, Dunn promulgated his mentor’s proscriptions against personal choice. Workshop concerts began in July 1962 at Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square South in Greenwich Village. The success of these concerts resulted in the formation of what came to be called the Judson Dance Theater, an informal and shifting group of young choreographers anchored by Rainer, Steve Paxton, Trisha Brown, David Gordon, and Deborah Hay, and joined by artists from other disciplines including visual artists Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Morris, and Robert Whitman. Invited by Rainer to join the group, Childs performed in the work of Judson choreographers and presented her first choreography, the solo Pastime, at the fourth Judson concert in January 1963.

    The neo-Dada streak in Judson drew on Cage’s embrace of the “noise” of life, as well as on the ideas of Robert Rauschenberg, familiar to the Judsonites as an artistic associate of Cunningham and Cage. Rauschenberg served as designer, stage manager, and lighting designer of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company from 1954–64.

  5. 5

    Revivals of three of Childs’ Judson solos were presented by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage in Philadelphia in October 2013. In Childs’ first professional choreography Pastime (1963), the soloist, encased in an elasticized cloth bag stretched into the shape of a boat or a bathtub, stretches her limbs, accompanied by a burbling score by Philip Corner. In Street Dance, shown at Robert Ellis Dunn’s choreography workshop at his Soho loft in July 1964, Childs left behind a tape recording on which she could be heard describing the sights on the street below; looking out the window of the loft, spectators could observe Childs pointing out the sights in synchrony with her recorded observations. (See video of Steve Paxton reading a 1964 letter to Childs about Street Dance.) In Museum Piece, presented at Judson Memorial Church in March 1965, Childs declaimed a text dissecting Georges Seurat’s Le Cirque, as she walked backward while navigating through a field of dots arrayed on the stage with the aid of a mirror.

  6. 6

    Childs’ “dances in silence” are: Untitled Trio (June 1968/revised December 1973); Calico Mingling (December 1973); Checkered Drift (December 1973); Particular Reel (December 1973); Congeries on Edges for 20 Obliques (March 1975); Reclining Rondo (March 1975); Duplicate Suite (March 1975); Transverse Exchanges (January 1976); Mix Detail (January 1976); Radial Courses (January 1976); Figure Eights (June 1976); Cross Words (June 1976); Interior Drama (November 1977); Melody Excerpt (November 1977); Plaza (November 1977); and Katema (March 1978).

    Beginning with Calico Mingling in 1973, Childs adopted her own system of visually scoring the choreography. Childs created these visual scores—diagrammatic charts—for each of her dances. In fact, each one of her dances from the Judson period is also documented with scores that exist alongside the later complex works from the 1970s. The sketches from Judson delineate pathways of movement and the positioning of props as part of their (mostly) solo structures. As her choreography unfolded in the 1970s, so the dancers’ pathways in the sketches also evolved. It wasn’t until Melody Excerpt (1977) that the pathways of the dancers were drawn in overlay. Previously, and for the most part, each dancer’s path was recorded discretely. The process of diagramming the dances is meaningful to Childs creatively as they function to facilitate recreation of her choreography on live dancing bodies. Each score is drawn by hand using drafting tools, colored pencils, and measurement aids. Taped-together iterations of the scores, multiple versions for different performing casts that are marked with “white-out” or erasures, are saved in files for each dance. A number of the dances are treated phrase-by-phrase, drawn separately on discrete pages and housed in binders. Collectively, they speak to Childs’ desire to fully understand the intricacies of the ways that choreography works structurally. Creating and saving her scores was a conscious decision from the beginning, one which anticipated the need to reconstruct the work.

  7. 7

    Lucinda Childs, in Lucinda Childs, A Film [motion picture], Patrick Bensard, dir., 52 mins., Paris: Lieurac Productions, 2006.

  8. 8

    In 1971 Childs took a class with Viola Farber, a master teacher who had been a founding member of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, dancing with the company for over a decade (1953–65). In 1968 she founded the Viola Farber Dance Company, which performed her dances through 1985. She encouraged her performers to improvise within the structure of the choreography. Farber taught at the Cunningham studio for eight years (1961–69) and at the London School for Contemporary Dance (1984–87). She was the artistic director of the Centre National de Danse Contemporaine in Angers, France from 1981–83 and was director of dance at Sarah Lawrence College from 1988 until her death in 1998.

  9. 9

    Yvonne Rainer, letter to Lucinda Childs, July 13, 1968. Collection of Lucinda Childs. Just as Childs was returning to choreography, Rainer herself left choreography to become a filmmaker, and it would be 25 years before she made another original dance.

  10. 10

    “Whitney Museum of American Art presents Lucinda Childs and Company in Concert of Dance” [program], December 7, 1973. Collection of Lucinda Childs.

  11. 11

    Lucinda Childs and Anne Livet, “Lucinda Childs: Edited Transcript of an Interview with Lucinda Childs,” Contemporary Dance: An Anthology of Lectures, Interviews and Essays With Many of the Most Important Contemporary American Choreographers, Scholars and Critics, Anne Livet, ed., New York: Abbeville Press, in association with the Fort Worth Art Museum, 1978, 63.

  12. 12

    “Whitney Museum of American Art presents Lucinda Childs and Company in Concert of Dance” [program], December 7, 1973. The Whitney also presented other former Judson choreographers, including Trisha Brown and Yvonne Rainer, as well as music by the Philip Glass Ensemble.

  13. 13

    In “ABC Art,” her essay delineating the nature of Minimalism, art historian and critic Barbara Rose linked the “denial and renunciation” of visual artists with that practiced by spiritual ascetics. “Like the mystic,” Rose writes, “in their work these artists deny the ego and the individual personality, seeking to evoke, it would seem, the semi-hypnotic state of blank unconsciousness.” In Barbara Rose, “ABC Art,” Art in America 53:5 (October/November, 1965), 57-69.

  14. 14

    Lucinda Childs, interview with Suzanne Carbonneau, Chilmark, MA, July 23, 2013.

  15. 15

    In her autobiography, Rainer writes that “Steve [Paxton] and I sometimes joked that he ‘invented’ walking and I ‘invented’ running. Certainly no previous formal choreography had relied solely on running, as in my dance [We Shall Run], or walking, sitting, and standing still, as in his [Satisfyin’ Lover].” Yvonne Rainer, Feelings Are Facts: A Life, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006, 243.

  16. 16

    Lucinda Childs, “Notes: ’64-’74,” The Drama Review: TDR 19:1 (March 1975), 34.

  17. 17

    Lucinda Childs, interview with Eric Franck [videorecording], 1978. Collection of Lucinda Childs.

  18. 18

    Childs, interview with Carbonneau.

  19. 19

    Childs and Livet, 66.

  20. 20

    The emergence of Robert Morris as a Minimalist sculptor in the 1960s was intertwined with his involvement in the Judson Dance Theater as a choreographer and performer. Through his work in dance, Morris had become interested in how the body engages with form as well as how the context of an object in space, in relation to the body of the viewer, affects perception. Morris’ theoretical writings on Minimalism, including his “Notes on Sculpture,” Parts 1-4 and “Anti Form,” were seminal documents in the establishment of Minimalism as a defining artistic movement of the period.

  21. 21

    Lucinda Childs, “Program Note for Reclining Rondo, in Selected Dances 1963-78, presented by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage in association with FringeArts and The University of the Arts School of Dance” [program], Philadelphia, October 4 & 6, 2013.

  22. 22

    Childs had a close professional relationship with Morris when (Untitled) L-Beams was created.

  23. 23

    Childs, interview with Carbonneau.

  24. 24

    While the L-Beams were identical, they appeared different to the viewer depending on his spatial relationship to the forms, whose configuration Morris intended should change each time they were exhibited. Critic and theorist Rosalind Krauss explains that “no matter how clearly we might understand that the three Ls are identical (in structure and dimension), it is impossible to see them as the same…. The ‘fact’ of the objects’ similarity belongs to a logic that exists prior to experience; because the moment of experience, or in experience, the Ls defeat the logic and are ‘different.’” In Rosalind E. Krauss, Passages in Modern Sculpture, New York: Viking Press, 1977. In her analysis, Krauss is indebted to French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who argued for the interdependence of subject and object, as perceived by the entire sensory system (i.e., the body) of the viewer. Merleau-Ponty’s The Phenomenology of Perception and The Primacy of Perception, which made his case for the embodiment of perception, were translated into English in 1962 and 1964, respectively, and were widely read by artists in the Minimalist nexus. Childs read Merleau-Ponty and acknowledges her debt to his analysis. Lucinda Childs, interview with Suzanne Carbonneau, Chilmark, MA, July 23, 2013.

  25. 25

    Lucinda Childs, interview with Eric Franck [videorecording], 1978. Collection of Lucinda Childs.

  26. 26

    Childs and Livet, 66.

  27. 27

    While Childs had been able to keep the choreography of the dances from the 1960s in her head, the prodigious complexity of the dances in silence demanded thorough documentation if Childs was to keep track of it for revival. Using architectural elements, she made the first of her visual scores for Calico Mingling (1973), intended as a record of the choreography, which she would always create after the dance had been worked out in the studio. Embedded as she was in the visual arts community and a regular at the galleries, it “seemed natural” to her to draw them. The scores are views of the patterns as seen from overhead. They were inspired by designer Arch Lauterer’s line drawings of Martha Graham’s floor patterns, which Childs thought “beautiful.” She appreciated the different perspective that the scores gave her on the choreography, allowing her “to see all of the patterns in different relationships to each other—nothing is ever repeated in exactly the same way—that is the point. The material is limited but each time we see it, it’s a different relationship.” While Childs had no formal arts training, she regards her studies of geometry as the kind of visual training that has proved most valuable to her. Childs, interview with Carbonneau.

  28. 28

    Under the auspices of the National Endowment for the Arts’ American Masterpieces: Dance—College Component initiative, Radial Courses was restaged on Sarah Lawrence College students in 2009. Keith Sabado, who had danced Radial Courses as a member of Childs’ company, directed the Sarah Lawrence project. The success of this restaging inspired the The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage initiative.

  29. 29

    Childs, interview with Carbonneau.

  30. 30

    Childs, interview with Carbonneau. Les Sylphides was performed at the inaugural season of the Diaghilev Ballets Russes in Paris in June 1909. It is a transitional work between the nineteenth-century classical tradition and twentieth-century neoclassical ballet; Les Sylphides married the classical corps de ballet composed of otherworldly creatures in ballets including La Sylphide, Giselle, La Bayadere, and Swan Lake, with the corps as it would be developed in the abstract neoclassical ballets of George Balanchine. In 1904, Fokine sent a manifesto to the Directorate of the Imperial Theaters, outlining his five principles of ballet “reform,” which were directed against the institutionalization of ballet customs into immutable rules. Fokine’s tenets included vocabulary specially created for the subject of each ballet, and the importance of the ensemble to the expressive character of a ballet. See Michel Fokine, “The New Russian Ballet: Conventions in Dancing. M. Fokine’s Principles and Aims,” The Times [London] (July 6, 1914); reprinted in Roger Copeland and Marshall Cohen, eds., What Is Dance? Readings in Theory and Criticism, London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1983, 260.

  31. 31

    See Lucinda Childs, “Notes on the Reconstructions,” published in this danceworkbook.

  32. 32

    Ballet blanc refers to the pure dance scenes in nineteenth-century Romantic ballets such as La Sylphide, Giselle, and Swan Lake, in which the corps de ballets dances non-narrative sequences within the heart of a narrative ballet. The term is derived from the white costumes worn by the dancers. Fokine’s Les Sylphides was, in part, a tribute to such sequences.

  33. 33

    Interior Drama received its premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), Lepercq Space on November 3, 1977.

  34. 34

    The “Big Four” choreographers—Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman, along with Holm—were so designated because they were the core artists in residence at the Bennington School of the Dance, the most important modern dance institution of that era. Holm had originally trained in German Expressionist Ausdruckstanz before immigrating to the United States, where she created a more austere and abstract style.

  35. 35

    Childs, interview with Carbonneau.

  36. 36

    Rebelling against Martha Graham and the esthetic of modern dance pioneers in the early 1950s, Merce Cunningham upended this notion of an ‘inner self’ that inspires the artist. He insisted on a more objective view of art-making, in which dance refers to nothing outside of its own constituent movement elements. Cunningham’s technique and choreography atomized the body and space into discrete parts that had no center, no focus, no geometric impulse to organization. Time was similarly disjunctive in his dances; it was divorced from the pulse of its sonic accompaniment. In league with his esthetic and life partner John Cage, Cunningham adopted compositional techniques aimed at bypassing the limits of an artist’s personal experience. Bolstered by aleatory tactics, this strategy deliberately blocked the artist from certain aspects of esthetic decision-making, though these maneuvers took place within strict structures determined by the artist. Still, Cunningham’s use of chance was limited in his total oeuvre, and he never went as far as Cage in ceding control of his compositional choices. Cunningham never fully adopted Cage’s commitment to nonhierarchical, found elements.

  37. 37

    While she has since lost track of the citation, Childs chose the title Katema because it connoted the idea of “underground passage.” Childs, interview with Carbonneau.

  38. 38

    Childs, interview with Carbonneau.

  39. 39

    Childs, in Bensard.

  40. 40

    Childs, in Bensard. Childs is here referring to Sontag’s essay on Childs’ choreography for Available Light (1982), where Sontag writes that “the visionary authority of Childs’ work resides, in part, in its lack of rhetoric…. Beauty as, first of all, an art of refusal.” In Sontag, “A Lexicon for Available Light,” Art in America, December 1983; reprinted in Where the Stress Falls: Essays, Picador, 2002, 161–177.

  41. 41

    Susan Sontag, speaking at The Kitchen, New York, 2002, in Bensard. Sontag remarked that Judson was “against beauty…whereas the great work of Lucinda’s is very beautiful, and for me that’s not a negative thing, that’s a positive thing.”

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