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Lucinda Childs Program: The Chairman Dances, Largo, LUccello di Fuoco
In a performance of darting dancers and geometric patterns, the
choreography of Lucinda Childs was executed with technical precision by MaggioDanza which
offered an all-Childs program. Childss phrases of movement are packed with classical
and post-modern elements and everything in between. They demand a strong technique--to
have a dancer pirouette facing one way only to land in the opposite direction and begin a
quick jumping sequence without blinking. MaggioDanza did this with remarkable clarity and
The short performance, only one hour and fifteen minutes including intermission, consisted of three works. The Chairman Dances began the afternoon in a feast of red silk and with a ginseng jolt of energy. The music, composed by John Adams, is an excerpt from Adamss 1987 opera Nixon in China in which Chang Ching, the wife of Mao Tse-tung, arrives unexpectedly at a reception held in honor of Richard Nixon. In this moment, the Chairman is expected to set aside his formal composure and simply be a man dancing with his wife. The choreography follows the same spirit of adventure. In the program notes, Childs explains that the dancers hearts beat together with the musical structure. The dancers are in a tight relation with the music, achieving a perfect equilibrium in reflecting or contradicting the numerous accents and the ever-present syncopation.
Adamss music pushes the choreography forward in a work more about shapes and swift direction changes than about lyrical fluidity. The dancers move quickly in red pants and tops with stiff port de bras arms first attitude turning and coupeing, then in a stream of double or triple pirouettes. Six ladies enter and depart scurrying like a school of fish, changing directions while repeating the same complex fancy-footwork phrase exactly. The work ends as it began, with a man center stage, twirling, balancing and diving inside a silver, rectangular frame.
Largo, set to Arcangelo Corellis Concerto Grosso Op. 6, was the complete opposite of Chairman. Created in 2001 for Mikhail Baryshnikov, the work is one magnificent sigh (program notes). From the open black-collared shirt to the long black hair of dancer Jun sun Xiao and the generous use of space with each lifting of the arm, the movements breathed casually and naturally. Even a flick of the head en releve did not seem to disturb the fluid line. Largo displays the expansive vocabulary that Childs uses. From classical attitude turns, a romantic arabesque line, a sharp turn of the head, standing stationary center stage, running in a circle, scurrying bent-legged hunched over, to turning his back on the audience, the dancer connects all forms and non-forms of dance in this one work celebrating movement itself. The choreographys nonchalance continues right until the end of the movement as Xiao turns his back on the audience and treads calmly and purposefully away.
The only disappointment in this flow of instinctive movements is that after the four minutes have passed and the audience is walked out on, the work seems to have just begun. It is a whiff of a languid breeze that should continue much longer, but instead departs abruptly. Also, Childss tendency to repeat movement phrases made the meat of the choreography seem lean indeed.
The grand finale, LUccello di Fuoco (The Firebird), was commissioned especially for MaggioDanza. The beginning is fantastic: six standing silhouettes against a silvery background and two large clouds remaining frozen during the whispering introduction of Stravinsky--an ominous taste of what is to come. In the thrilling climax, the fight between good and evil for the triumph of love, there is not the satisfaction of seeing Siegfried fight Rothbart to the death for Odettes freedom as in Swan Lake. In Childs LUccello di Fuoco the only sign that Kascej, the evil magician who keeps the princesses and the firebird prisoners inside a garden of golden pear trees, had been fought and defeated was her silver/teal cape streaming diagonally across the stage and Stravinskys triumphant horn melody.
Childs continues to receive invitations, awards and commissions from abroad, but, inexplicably, at home in the United States her work is rarely performed and she was forced to disband her company for financial reasons.
March 24, 2005 Sheya Meierdierks-Lehman