DANCE / Doing the locomotion: Lucinda Childs - QEH, London

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The Independent Culture
Although London's Dance Umbrella festival has been showcasing the work of American companies and soloists since 1978, its pick and mix approach to programming has resulted in an incomplete jigsaw of the New York dance scene. Of this year's imports, the Lucinda Childs Dance Company ranks as the most significant, for not only is Childs an icon in the brief history of post-modern dance - her ensemble is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary - but, until its performances at the recent Edinburgh Festival, the company had never visited Britain.

Available Light, given its British premiere at the QEH on Tuesday, was created in 1983. Originally commissioned by the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, this all-American collaboration between Childs, the architect Frank Gehry and the composer John Adams, is performed by 10 dancers - with Childs occasionally entering the tireless flow of action - on Gehry's makeshift, split-level stage, backed by a chain-link fence.

Childs' choreography explores forms of locomotion - walking, skipping, hopping - and treats repetition as a code of practice rather than a theatrical device. Her dancers, dressed in red, black and white, are arranged like figures on an invisible chequer- board, taking up positions which stress attack and retreat. And yet their constant, partly unison mapping of immediate areas of space remains a private, solitary affair, carried to the scribble and thrum of Adams' Light Above Water.

Like Dance, her 1979 signature piece (shown only in Edinburgh), Available Light plays on the idea of cross- imaging - Susan Sontag calls it 'doubling' -in which one set of dancers provides an echo or counterpoint to another group. In Dance, the second set - captured on film by the artist Sol LeWitt and projected on to a scrim in front of the live performance - served as a flawlessly integrated component.

In Available Light, however, the two 'doubling' movements of the two performers on the upper platform prove an all too obvious correspondence to the actions of their fellow dancers situated in the main arena. And, at 50 minutes, the dance eventually runs out of variations upon its very singular concept.

The layering and reorganisation of barely transformed pedestrian movement - running, jumping, tilting - which seemed so richly accomplished in Dance, registers as a coldly obsessive exercise here, and, in contrast to Gehry's typically rough- edged 'non-finite' structure, which posits the notion of architectural impermanence, Childs' choreography is rigidly tailored to inhabit its own blankly ordered sphere.

Although the relationship between Childs' material and the production's other elements is consummate enough, her dancers appear entirely self-sufficient, almost to the point of excluding audience response. This built-in distancing pervades all of Childs' work but in Available Light it robs the performance of all human substance.

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