IN A NEW ‘LIGHT’

Chore­og­ra­pher Lucinda Childs, com­poser John Adams and de­signer Frank Gehry re­tool their ’83 per­for­mance art piece

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Jessica Gelt

Frank Gehry re­mem­bers the day in 1983 that chore­og­ra­pher Lucinda Childs in­vited him to her stu­dio.

“I sat in a cor­ner, and she danced pri­vately for me for an hour or so,” he re­calls. “It was prob­a­bly one of the most un­for­get­table ex­pe­ri­ences of my life.” But mem­ory is a slip­pery beast. It darts in and out of the mind’s shad­ows, over years and decades, un­til one day it emerges, changed, rep­re­sent­ing a new truth. Such is the case with “Avail­able Light,” a per­for­mance art piece by Childs, for which Gehry de­signed the set af­ter that mem­o­rable af­ter­noon in Childs’ stu­dio.

First mounted in 1983 as part of the open­ing of MOCA’s Tem­po­rary Con­tem­po­rary (later re­named the Gef­fen Con­tem­po­rary) in down­town Los An­ge­les, “Avail­able Light” was con­ceived by the ac­claimed post­mod­ern chore­og­ra­pher to a score by min­i­mal­ist com­poser John Adams. The piece is be­ing re­con­structed for an in­ter­na­tional tour that will stage its pre­miere Fri­day at Walt Dis­ney Con­cert Hall.

Not sur­pris­ingly, the show’s three creators all have some­what dif­fer­ent rec­ol­lec­tions of what con­sti­tuted the orig­i­nal. As they bring their per­spec­tives to bear more than 30 years later, they are not just restag­ing a his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ment of move­ment, design and mu­sic; they are pro­duc­ing a fresh piece of art, molded by a new space, vastly up­dated tech­nol­ogy and dif­fer­ent dancers.

“If I go there now and look for ‘Avail­able Light,’ I can’t find it in my mem­ory,” Gehry says of the Tem­po­rary Con­tem­po­rary per­for­mance. “I know it was there, but I can’t re­mem­ber how it was there — how we put it there.”

What they put in­side the ware­house was a piece that in­spired lav­ish praise from many in the L.A. art scene, along with the ire of Times art critic Wil­liam Wil­son, who wrote with bit­ing sar­casm in 1983: “The Tem­po­rary Con­tem­po­rary has opened with the form con­sid­ered the ne plus ul­tra of the avant-garde, the fron­tier of the cut­ting edge: Per­for­mance Art.”

Times writer Craig Bromberg had kinder words for “Avail­able Light” in a pro­file of Childs. He de­scribed the dance as be­ing about

the “ab­strac­tion of time and space through move­ment.”

The work un­folded on Gehry’s split-level, asym­met­ri­cal stage made of un­fin­ished lum­ber, cur­tains and chain link. Childs and 11 dancers, clad in black, red or white jump­suits with slits in the arms and legs, spun in what Bromberg de­scribed as “pre­cisely or­dered, con­tin­u­ally chang­ing pat­terns of di­a­monds and half cir­cles” to Adams’ lively mu­sic.

Childs’ mem­ory of the per­for­mance it­self is the most clear, largely thanks to sketches she refers to as “scores,” draw­ings of the dance from an over­head point of view. They map out the pro­gres­sion of the per­for­mance, sec­tion by sec­tion, show­ing the dancers’ re­la­tion­ship to one another, the space and their as­signed move­ments. Thanks to these doc­u­ments and a film of the orig­i­nal, Childs says she was able to stay re­mark­ably faith­ful to what once was.

But that doesn’t mean 2015 au­di­ences will per­ceive it in the same way.

“Au­di­ences then were shocked and had never seen this kind of work be­fore,” Childs says. “I don’t feel that’s the case now. Peo­ple come with an idea of what they are go­ing to see.”

If the orig­i­na­tors of “Avail­able Light” thought they would one day be con­sid­ered ground­break­ing artists, Gehry says, “We would’ve run for the hills. No­body ever pre­sumes that. We wait about 30 or 40 years and look back and say, ‘Yeah, maybe.’”

Adams is also wary of grandiose state­ments about the na­ture of the work and its sig­nif­i­cance, point­ing to com­poser John Cage’s col­lab­o­ra­tions with chore­og­ra­pher Merce Cun­ning­ham in the 1950s. There is noth­ing new un­der the sun, he said. Just mod­ern it­er­a­tions, like this up­dated ver­sion of “Avail­able Light,” of which he is very proud.

“What I find in­ter­est­ing is that it was a pe­riod where col­lab­o­rat­ing artists tended to give each other a great deal of cre­ative free­dom,” Adams says. “Lucinda ba­si­cally said to me, ‘You can do any­thing you want.’ In ret­ro­spect I think she was ex­pect­ing some­thing more pulse-driven, but it was ter­rific to watch the way she in­ter­nal­ized it.”

One of the few in­ten­tional changes made to “Avail­able Light” has been Adams’ ad­di­tions to the score, “A few win­dows of pul­sa­tion for the dancers to hold on to,” he says.

Af­ter all, mu­sic adds vi­tal shape to the dance. Adams orig­i­nally cre­ated a mul­ti­chan­nel elec­tronic piece us­ing syn­the­siz­ers be­fore syn­the­siz­ers be­came “cold and dig­i­tal.” He then com­posed mu­sic for brass in­stru­ments, which he recorded in a stu­dio in San Fran­cisco. Those tracks were mixed in with the elec­tronic sounds.

“I think its very unique in that sense,” Adams says.

As for Gehry, his new stage has been made to hit the road. It will look sim­i­lar to the orig­i­nal and have the same pro­por­tions, but au­di­ences won’t be able to view it from four sides, as they did at the Tem­po­rary Con­tem­po­rary.

“This is a piece of L.A. his­tory and L.A. cul­ture,” the Mu­sic Cen­ter’s vice pres­i­dent of pro­gram­ming, Re­nae Wil­liams Niles, says of the show, which is be­ing pre­sented in con­junc­tion with the Los An­ge­les Phil­har­monic as part of the “Next on Grand” se­ries. “We don’t get the op­por­tu­nity to re­visit things like this of­ten enough.”

This is true, although re­vivals of live shows, like re­makes of clas­sic movies, are be­com­ing more com­mon. Childs, for ex­am­ple, comes to “Avail­able Light” af­ter a suc­cess­ful restag­ing of the 1976 Philip Glass-Robert Wil­son opera “Ein­stein on the Beach,” for which she served as the lead chore­og­ra­pher and per­former.

Childs per­formed in the orig­i­nal “Avail­able Light,” but she won’t ap­pear this time.

“I’m turn­ing 75,” she says. “I still demon­strate all the move­ment, but I’m not per­form­ing any­more.”

Her part will be trans­ferred among dif­fer­ent dancers, and that will, of course, re­sult in a rip­ple in the re-creation, a new mem­ory squarely rooted where it be­longs: in 2015.

Carolyn Cole Los An­ge­les Times

LUCINDA CHILDS, who danced in the orig­i­nal “Avail­able Light,” is su­per­vis­ing chore­og­ra­phy in the new ver­sion pre­mier­ing Fri­day.

Frank Gehry

ORIG­I­NAL SKETCHES of “Avail­able Light’s” asym­met­ri­cal stage in 1983 by Frank Gehry, who had to re­design the stag­ing for the new work to ac­com­mo­date the travel re­quire­ments.

Carolyn Cole Los An­ge­les Times

LUCINDA CHILDS works with the dancers for the up­dated pro­duc­tion.

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