The legendary avant-garde choreographer Lucinda Childs spoke at Barnard on October 26 following a rare public screening of a documentary about her career directed by Patrick Bensard, founder and former director of the Cinémathèque de la Danse in Paris.  Dancer Vincent McCloskey joined Bensard and Childs in a lively discussion following the screening.  

A leading figure in postmodern dance, Childs is a founding member of the Judson Dance Theater, where she began her career in 1963.  A choreographer and a performer, she worked with Yvonne Rainer, Steve Paxton, and Robert Morris, and formed her own dance company in 1973.   She has created over 50 works, both solo and ensemble.  According to The New York Times, Childs carved out “a particular niche of elegantly minimal severity,” and in France “she has been seen by a generation of influential taste makers as one of the indisputably major talents of contemporary dance.”

Childs described her creative process as “very intuitive at first” when working with the music but becoming “technical” as she applies the choreography to her dancers.  Regarding the role of music with movement, she said, “Music should not illustrate or ignore but create a tension between the two structures” of movement and music. 

Bensard’s film traces her professional trajectory—from her training at Sarah Lawrence College, her work with Merce Cunningham, her early years at Judson, and her breakout work, and the 1976 Philip Glass opera “Einstein on the Beach.” Her works set a high bar for multi-disciplinary collaboration: “Dance” (1979), for which she received a Guggenheim Fellowship, paired Glass and minimalist artist Sol LeWitt, while “Available Light” (1983) brought together the composer John Adams and architect Frank Gehry.  In 2004, Childs was elevated from the rank of Officer to Commander in France’s Order of Arts and letters, and in 2009 she received the National Endowment of the Arts/New England Foundation for the Arts American Masterpiece Award.

Bensard observed during the post-screening discussion that Childs is one of the modern choreographers who “taught France a new way to consider dance.”  At age 76, she continues to perform and to advance complex approaches to this art form.