Lucinda Childs & Phillip Glass
Lyon Opera Ballet
Sadler's Wells

Dance Credit: Jaime Roque De La Cruz

Overthrowing the notion of narrative, Lucinda Child’s pioneering 1979 piece, Dance, a pared-back 60 minutes of pure and beautiful movement, proves that minimalism can create an emotive journey with little more than movement itself as the lynchpin of performance.

What once appeared coldly unfamiliar to audiences forty odd years ago is no longer the case today. The structurally pure and clean lines of dancers slipping across the stage like birds in flight feels far more classical than cutting edge, and balletic in movement language than modern. This is no bad thing. The work, seen in a different era, is near poetically elegiac in its beautiful simplicity.

Dance acts as the perfectly poised opener for Dance Reflections, a festival sponsored by Van Cleef & Arpels celebrating international choreography in a diverse mix of movement in gallery spaces and theatres over the next fortnight.

Seventeen dancers from the Lyon Opera Ballet hit the stage clad in white hot pants and tightly fitting leotards, pinging out precise movements across a stage of squares in clockwork time to the hypnotic score of Phillip Glass, conceived for Dance. They move in and out of circles and formations, simplifying complex movement and repeating steps to the point where it becomes easy to follow what will come next.

It may sound sparsely uniform, but for all its geometry, this piece is strikingly ephemeral, and such repetitive formations of movement are remarkably freeing, the flow and rhythm of the piece hypnotic and dreamlike.

Music, costume and choreography are all minimalist, yet a strange, otherworldly dimension is created by Sol LeWit’s film, re-shot identical to the original in 1979 featuring the Lyon Opera dancers, projected onto a transparent scrim between dancers and audience and running simultaneously with the dancers onstage.

It looks as if the dancers in physical real-time are performing alongside celluloid figurines, sharing the space and often magnified to the full height of the stage, doubling the cast in size and scale. The effect is overwhelmingly magical, like watching a dreamy backdrop colliding with action.

Compositionally, there are three parts to the piece. Part one and two shoot out groups of eight dancers moving across the stage in a fluid outpouring of glissades, echappes, pivots and jetes, separated by a central solo at the choreographic heart of the piece.

Soloist Noëllie Conjeaud holds the space beautifully and follows the curves of Glass’s music in a crescendo of neat steps, moving forwards, then pulling back, as if playing with the rises and falls of the music as if in a childish game of cat and mouse.

The counts in the music give the dancers their cues and it all comes gloriously together in a fusion of music, film and live performance, proving that behind the thin veil of minimalism sits a complex work of art capable of hypnotising the coolest of hearts and holding great power, ageless and fresh and as relevant as it was 40 years ago.

Reviewer: Rachel Nouchi