From "An Art of Refusal: Lucinda Childs' Dances in Silence, 1973–78"

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

Score for Lucinda Childs’ Melody Excerpt. This score represented all the possible pathways that each dancer may traverse during the course of performing Melody Excerpt, along with stage measurements in feet. In this version the dimensions are 32 by 28 feet. Each dancer is represented by a discrete color. In her archive Childs refers to this as a “grid.” Courtesy of Lucinda Childs.

Launching in late February, A Steady Pulse: Restaging Lucinda Childs, 1963–78 is a dynamic reexamination of the early dances of one of America’s most influential contemporary choreographers. In this excerpt from the forthcoming multimedia online publication, dance critic and historian Suzanne Carbonneau reflects on beauty as refusal in Childs’ work.

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.”

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.” 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.

In 2010, The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage supported the restaging of Lucinda Childs’ Dance at FringeArts. Inspired by this extraordinary performance of an older work, and eager to provide effective capacity-building opportunities for local artists, in 2013 the Center supported local dancers through advanced training by Lucinda Childs and her creative collaborator Ty Boomershine. This training led to the restaging of the dances presented in A Steady Pulse: Restaging Lucinda Childs, 1963–78, our latest publication in the danceworkbook series.

Explore More