Emerg­ing from the dark­ness

Re­vival of the 1983 Lucinda Childs, John Adams, Frank Gehry project now soars.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - MARK SWED MU­SIC CRITIC mark.swed@la­times.com

A new il­lu­mi­na­tion for dance piece “Avail­able Light.”

The idea of re­viv­ing a 32year-old col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween com­poser John Adams, chore­og­ra­pher Lucinda Childs and ar­chi­tect Frank Gehry that had been com­mis­sioned by the Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art to open its Tem­po­rary Con­tem­po­rary space (now the Gef­fen Con­tem­po­rary) might seem a pe­cu­liar way to cel­e­brate the Mu­sic Cen­ter’s 50th an­niver­sary and an es­pe­cially pe­cu­liar end of the Los An­ge­les Phil­har­monic’s sea­son in Walt Dis­ney Con­cert Hall.

“Avail­able Light” is a 50minute dance piece that has noth­ing to do with the Mu­sic Cen­ter. Adams’ score is elec­tronic, so it has noth­ing to do with the orches­tra. Per­formed Fri­day and Satur­day night as the penul­ti­mate event in the Next on Grand fes­ti­val, the work had noth­ing to do with Grand Av­enue, the Gef­fen be­ing in Lit­tle Tokyo.

Nor was the pre­miere in 1983 par­tic­u­larly well re­ceived. Martin Bern­heimer ended his Times re­view with the mem­o­rable line: “If this re­ally is the best ‘Light’ avail­able, let there be dark­ness.” Af­ter a brief tour to the Brook­lyn Academy of Mu­sic and Europe, “Avail­able Light” went mostly into eclipse.

But three decades of dark­ness have fi­nally come to an end. In ret­ro­spect, “Avail­able Light” is a rev­e­la­tion.

It has ev­ery­thing to do with the Mu­sic Cen­ter and the L.A. Phil. Not only is “Avail­able Light” a com­pelling in­ter­play be­tween dance, mu­sic and set­ting — gor­geous to be­hold and thrilling to hear — but the work now bril­liantly il­lu­mi­nates how three Amer­i­can artists on the cusp of great­ness made the mo­men­tous leap.

It took only walk­ing into Dis­ney on Fri­day night and see­ing the joy­fully jut­ting or­gan pipes made to ap­pear mys­te­ri­ously f loat­ing in air be­hind a chain-link scrim to re­al­ize an act of mag­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion was to oc­cur. At the Tem­po­rary Con­tem­po­rary, a vast ware­house that Gehry had con­verted into gallery space for MOCA, the ar­chi­tect had pro­duced a re­mark­able twolevel set for the dancers, with two sets of bleach­ers for the au­di­ence, one fac­ing the front of the stage (which had chain-link as a back­drop) and an­other at right an­gles. This was Gehry’s first ex­plo­ration of the idea of in­clud­ing an au­di­ence as part of the show that even­tu­ally led to the Dis­ney au­di­to­rium con­cept.

A big blast of horns over loud­speak­ers at the start of Adams’ score for syn­the­sizer and pre-recorded brass in­di­cates he had been lis­ten­ing to Si­belius as much as to Steve Re­ich. In three ef­fu­sive move­ments, Adams em­braced catchy rep­e­ti­tions while also ex­plor­ing long pas­sages of moody har­monies and rich drones in which colors and tex­tures slowly changed with­out pulse. The ini­tial le­gacy of “Light Over Wa­ter” (as Adams named the score) was a mam­moth writer’s block and pe­riod of Jun­gian ther­apy be­fore he found a way to re­solve the two im­pulses in his first ma­jor orches­tral score, “Har­monielehre.”

Childs’ re­ac­tion to Gehry and Adams was to am­plify the com­pli­ca­tions of du­al­ity. On the main stage, vary­ing-sized groups of dancers in red, white or black form fluid pair­ings, dou­bled by in­di­vid­ual dancers on the smaller up­per level. The rad­i­cal over­all ef­fect is that of dance not only as hor­i­zon­tal but ver­ti­cal ge­om­e­try. This was prece­dent to Childs’ daz­zling chore­og­ra­phy for the 1984 re­vival of Philip Glass and Robert Wil­son’s “Ein­stein on the Beach,” and Childs’ com­pany is the same ex­u­ber­ant one that was seen at the Mu­sic Cen­ter two years ago.

Dis­ney’s “Light” re­vival in­volved mod­i­fi­ca­tions and updating, in­clud­ing re­plac­ing fash­ion designer Ron­al­dus Shamask’s orig­i­nal bil­lowy full-body cos­tumes with skimpier de­signs by Ka­sia Wal­icka Mai­mone bet­ter suited to the sculpted bod­ies of to­day’s dancers. Mark Grey’s mod­ern sound de­sign of­fered all the benefits of loud, clean, deep dig­i­tal while still re­tain­ing the orig­i­nal warmth and di­men­sion­al­ity of the orig­i­nal ana­log tape. John Tor­res’ adap­ta­tion of Bev­erly Em­mons’ light de­sign added lu­mi­nous glow to the tun­nels un­der the plat­forms, bathed the stage is shift­ing swathes of color and kept the or­gan a loom­ing pres­ence in misty dark­ness.

In an es­say for the 1983 pre­miere, Su­san Son­tag sum­ma­rized Childs’ dance as eu­phoric. I re­mem­ber that pre­miere as be­ing a bit rocky, de­spite the enor­mous per­sonal mag­netism of Childs’ danc­ing. She has split her role be­tween Ty Boomer­shine and Caitlin Scran­ton, and that fur­ther am­pli­fies is­sues of du­al­ity.

But what is most ex­traor- di­nary about “Avail­able Light” 2015 is that eu­pho­ria is the re­sult of the in­ter­ac­tion of each el­e­ment of sight and sound and move­ment.

The pro­duc­tion will tour Europe this sum­mer, and it is sched­uled to be per­formed in Berke­ley in 2017 as part of the cel­e­bra­tions there of Adams’ 70th birth­day. New York, per­haps re­call­ing the com­prised fit of the set at the Brook­lyn Academy of Mu­sic in 1983, thus far has no tak­ers. Even MOCA ap­pears to be pay­ing lit­tle at­ten­tion. The mu­seum made no ef­fort to ex­hibit its ex­ten­sive doc­u­men­ta­tion of the work’s cre­ation or to take ad­vance of the vinyl fad by re­pub­lish­ing the orig­i­nal cat­a­log that in­cluded an LP record­ing of “Light Over Wa­ter.”

Maybe, how­ever, that is as it should be. “Avail­able Light,” which was jointly pre­sented by the L.A. Phil­har­monic and the Mu­sic Cen­ter’s dance pro­gram, has a new home. It be­longs to Dis­ney. Two per­for­mances are not nearly enough.

Lawrence K. Ho Los An­ge­les Times

THIS PRO­DUC­TION of “Avail­able Light” felt right at home at Walt Dis­ney Con­cert Hall, but the just-con­cluded two-night run doesn’t seem nearly enough.

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