Lucinda Childs

Lucinda Childs, DANCE, 1979. Performance view, 2009. Photo: Sally Cohn.

The dancer and choreographer Lucinda Childs is one of the constitutive members of the group that came to be known as Judson Dance Theater in the early 1960s. Her extensive body of work as a choreographer includes such celebrated pieces as Einstein on the Beach, 1976, (directed by Robert Wilson and scored by Philip Glass) and DANCE, 1979, (with film/decor by Sol LeWitt and music by Glass). She is currently collaborating on a new piece with Glass, scheduled to debut in 2014. Here, Childs reflects on her involvement with Judson and the ongoing shifts in her work.

WHEN I WAS at Sarah Lawrence in the early-1960s, one of our teachers was a member of the Cunningham Company. She told me about the Judson group and about Yvonne Rainer. I would go into the city when I could, usually on holidays. Merce would do a June course and a Christmas course, and he was also teaching in New London, Connecticut. And we would go, some of us, to New London to study with him in the summers.

I was interested in acting, and I still am. But I was mostly just interested in the performing arts. Cunningham was completely different from anything else we’d had. Up until then I’d been studying modern dance with people like Hanya Holm. And when Cunningham came in, it was completely different and totally exciting. It was part of the truly contemporary world, of everything—you know, painting, music, drama. At the studio there was Jasper Johns and John Cage and Robert Rauschenberg. It was such an alive time in that particular part of the world.

My first performance for Judson was Pastime, 1963, and I’m performing it still now. I was interested in the tubular jersey—by then it was already famous because of Graham’s Lamentation. It was also in all this Alwin Nikolai material that I had looked at over the years, and which, actually, I loved. I don’t know what Pastime is. It’s abstract. I got involved with the material and used it in a way that I thought was the complete opposite of how it was used in terms of the dramatic intention of Lamentation, or the effects of Nikolai. It turned into kind of a little bathtub that I manipulated in different ways. All of the work in Judson, once you pick your materials and start to work with them, they sort of dictate their own journey and you just follow it in an intuitive way.

I was very lucky, coming from college. It was the perfect place for me; it was a little bit like a laboratory. You went in there with ideas, and you got to work with all these other people. That went on for approximately five years. I was involved with the Judson Group, on and off, up until the Theatre and Engineering project in 1966, and then we sort of all went off on our own.

The period of Untitled Trio, which showed at the Whitney Museum, wasn’t until the early 1970s. By then I had a very small group; there were five of us. After working mostly solo, I wanted to be able to step outside my work, to see it on other people, and I wanted to go back to very simple sorts of pedestrian movement and change of direction. I mean people went off in different directions and I went back to a more minimalist approach. No more objects, no more dialogue, not so conceptual—just working with very basic, fundamental movement ideas. And I really needed a group to deal with it because the possibilities in space—even with simple directions and movement patterns—can get very complex. I needed to see it in three dimensions, and not just drawing it on paper.

Judson drew a certain kind of audience, mostly other artists and the art community—the contemporary art community, anyway. That was true of my work for a long time, when I performed in churches and outdoors and on rooftops and plazas. When I met Robert Wilson in 1974, I started to think differently about the whole idea of the proscenium space and what could be done with it. I don’t think he uses the stage in a traditional way. First of all, he didn’t think of it as a drawback; he felt it was a way to extend his vision. He would adapt the space. In many ways, you don’t even know where you are.

Wilson’s imagery is so powerful and extraordinary. He uses all of the technology in that kind of space totally to his advantage. It was a big step for me. It started me off on the whole idea of collaboration. Because working in an alternative space, you bring in your lights, you bring in everything that you need, and it’s very limited with what you can do in terms of production values. Wilson just opened up a whole new world for me in terms of all of those powerful possibilities.