Posted by: trailerpilot | 10:17::2009

Double paned.

The full spectrum of Philip Glass was on display Friday at the MCA. A remount of his collaboration with Lucinda Childs and Sol LeWitt framed his work as the uttermost in formal invention and rigorous intricacy, while his solo performance at the piano stripped that same mystique from his reputation leaving himself, the artist and individual, admirably available and unceremoniously human.

Philip Glass. Photo by Stewart Cohen.

Philip Glass. Photo by Stewart Cohen.

At the bench, Glass’ familiar selections developed new existences influenced by the moment. Upon beginning a suite of eight of his Etudes, he introduced them as “studies of methods of playing.” The way this statement unfolded itself as his performance continued was profound. His readings shared meticulousness, ambition, abandon, humanity and humility. His compositions’ trademark trills were sometimes crystalline, sometimes fused by heat and age into miasmatic soundscapes. The second étude in evinced gravity acting on the muscles and bones of his arms as he’d raise them up, form tools, and release to visit their weight upon the keys; the second to last was by contrast pure and objective, an example of the technique his work sings with or without.

Metamorphosis 2 and the opening/closing of Glassworks, pieces that’ve become inescapable — especially in the concert dance realm — bookended the evening (I didn’t see him, but hope to God someone invited Alejandro Cerrudo). The breadth of both feeling and concept during his performance of each amazed and brought me back to what familiarity through recordings has dulled.

I’ve seen a lot of choreography to Glass this year, probably close to a dozen works, and Lucinda Childs’ DANCE (1979) is the only one that tries to meet literally what he explores sonically. The palette is extraordinarily limited: Dance I is a hypnotic wash of balancés, sautés, faillis, jétés and channés; Dance II a solo that wears the upstage-downstage center line into a grand canyon; and Dance III an ecstatic ensemble movement capitalizing on the open awakening built into every fouetté sauté. Caitlin Scranton, in the solo originated by Childs, brought her elongated frame into full service of proximally-initiated port de bras and sharp changes of spot. Whereas Childs on screen — projected from original footage — had her eyes to the floor and shot little of her formal research outward, Scranton looked out at a horizon thousands of miles away; not holding a creative stake in the process freed her up to simply perform the pure, mesmerizing movement.

Lucinda Childs' DANCE. Photo by Sally Cohn.

Lucinda Childs' DANCE. Photo by Sally Cohn.

What I noticed also was how the horizontal phrases’ oscillations and undercurves foiled the tension of the often-visible gridded floor, plain white costumes, and frequent symmetry and unison. Each dancer’s head traced a path of shallow scallops as it crossed the stage; these curves were never literally drawn, but provided balance to DANCE‘s surface severity. LeWitt’s film editing also becomes more playful as the piece progresses: a steady introduction of new visual concepts (split screens, a second or third horizontal plane, wandering close-ups) peels the viewing experience back and encourages a multitude of ways of looking on the live dancers. Still images, never a match to the picture at the height of a jump or precise moment of shape, also cut the relentlessness. They were pictures one might take trying to capture the “perfect” moment, ones that would be thrown out as failures. That we were never shown these “successes” subtly opened the concept of how DANCE watches itself, hitting as well as missing. Kudos to the conceptually-synchronized cast and executors of Beverly Emmons’ lighting design. What a wonderful experiment.


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