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The Whitney Presents a Special Exhibition Exploring Lucinda Child's Legendary Dance
In 1979, Lucinda Childs and Philip Glass invited Sol LeWitt to collaborate with them on a new work titled Dance. Photo: EPA/Walter Bieri.

NEW YORK, NY.- A legendary collaboration between Lucinda Childs, Philip Glass, and Sol LeWitt, the iconic performance work Dance is the subject of a special exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, featuring an archival performance video and various related materials by the three artists, in its fifth-floor galleries throughout the summer. The installation has been organized by Chrissie Iles, the Whitney’s Anne & Joel Ehrenkranz Curator.

In 1979, Lucinda Childs and Philip Glass invited Sol LeWitt to collaborate with them on a new work titled Dance, commissioned by the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The project brought the minimalist language of the three artists into a tightly structured dialogue. Glass’s musical score formed the framework for Childs’s choreography, to which LeWitt responded by creating a 35mm black-and-white film of the dancers performing passages selected from each of three dances.

This focused exhibition brings together for the first time previously unseen material by Childs, Glass, and LeWitt created during the making of Dance. The material includes drawings by Childs; three large storyboard diagrams by LeWitt related to the making of the film for Dance; the original score by Glass for ‘Dance # I’; black and white photographs from the first performance of Dance in 1979 by Nathaniel Tileston; and a video of a performance of Dance in Paris in 1991. Seen together, the material reveals the working process behind a unique performative collaboration by three key figures.

In five drawings by Childs, the dancers’s movements across the stage in each section of Dance are traced in deceptively simple geometric patterns, each colored according to the lighting of the stage. In LeWitt’s complex storyboards, drawn on top of Childs’s dance scores on clear Mylar sheets by LeWitt and his camera person Lisa Rinzler, the camera’s movements in relation to each dancer are notated. Hiring a studio on 8th Street, Childs, LeWitt, and Rinzler shot the dancers performing Childs’s score to Glass’s music, marking a grid on the dark floor with white tape. LeWitt’s ability to translate visual structures into temporal form, and his understanding of both Childs’s and Glass’s scores, is revealed in his early observation that “regular spacing might become a metric time element, a kind of regular beat or pulse.”

The resulting film was projected onto a large transparent scrim covering the front of the stage in three of the five sections of the final performance of Dance (‘Dance no. 1’, ‘Dance no. 3’, and ‘Dance no. 4’), as the dancers performed the same steps behind it. In ‘Dance no. 1’, ‘Dance no. 3’, and ‘Dance no. 4’ the stage behind the scrim was lit in blue, yellow, and red respectively, creating a sense of volumetric space that contrasted with the flat space of the black and white film projected on the scrim. The frontal movements of the live dancers were further counter-pointed by LeWitt’s use of close-ups, diagonal viewpoints, overhead shots, split screens, and freeze-frames to reveal otherwise hidden perspectives of the dancers’s movements.

LeWitt’s filmic structure echoes that of Childs who, as Henry M. Sayre observes, “explicitly explores a geometry of repetition and reflection.” In Dance, space becomes a unit of time contained within a grid, a format that can imply progressive movement, yet be perceived as a whole, simultaneously. Dance marks a unique moment in the history of collaboration between artists and dancers, from Robert Rauschenberg, Merce Cunningham, and Jasper
Johns, to Yvonne Rainer, Trisha Brown, and Carolee Schneemann – all of whose work is part of the Whitney Museum’s permanent collection. This focused exhibition demonstrates the Whitney’s ongoing commitment to that collaborative practice, and its demonstration that dance, music, and film can be brought together in a seamless whole.

A seminal collaboration emerging out of one of the most vibrant and prolific periods in New York’s art world, DANCE is a rarely performed signature work by one of the pillars of the Judson Dance Theater collective, Lucinda Childs. Recipient of the NEA/NEFA American Masterpiece Award, the 1979 classic has been remounted by the Richard B. Fisher Center at Bard College with a complete restoration of Sol LeWitt’s work on film, which comprises the work’s decor and with which the dancers seamlessly interact. DANCE will tour with a new company of eleven dancers under Childs’s direction.

Whitney Museum of American Art | Lucinda Childs | Philip Glass | Sol LeWitt | performance | video | installation |

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