Towards an Embodied Abstraction: An Historical Perspective on Lucinda Childs’ Calico Mingling (1973)
2. A 40 Square Foot Dance
3. From Floor Plan to Path
Up at Bennington on the open floor of the Armory […], Arch Lauterer this summer followed the lines of some of Martha Graham’s best-known dances and of the newest dance, “Immediate Tragedy”. The sketches were made in half darkness and while Mr. Lauterer was watching the dance, without the opportunity to check his line against the dancer’s movement. Yet even in this way, they make a portrait both of the dancer and the dance that is clear and free and modern. They point the way ahead.
4. Tecknik and Techniques
Conflicts of Interest
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The 1970s correspond to seminal projects such as the dance collective Grand Union (Yvonne Rainer, Becky Arnold, Douglas Dunn, David Gordon, Barbara Dilley, Steve Paxton, among others), or Contact Improvisation, a technique led by anarchist ideals, and organised in a radically decentralised manner by a network of practitioners (Steve Paxton, Nancy Stark Smith, Lisa Nelson, among others) and its magazine, Contact Quarterly.
Fonds Lucinda Childs—Médiathèque du Centre national de la danse, call number: 11 CHIL 1/1-8—25 CHIL/1513. The archive includes two mains subcategories: 1. The Personal Papers: Folders with notes, drawings, and inscriptions of various sorts developed for choreographic pieces and collaborations, photographs, films, posters, and clippings. 2. The Lucinda Childs Dance Company archives: Administrative material related to the Company productions and touring, as well as Childs’ freelance projects with ballets, theatre, opera, and film. More information and an inventory are provided by the Centre national de la danse: http://inventaire.cnd.fr/archives-en-ligne/ead.html?id=CND_CHIL&c=CND_CHIL_e0000018 (accessed on 19 November 2020).
See (Burt 2006, pp. 52–87), (Lista and Kotz 2017, pp. 158–93), (Rondeau 2013), and (Lamarra Graham 2014, pp. 87–143). Even if there is much to write in order to precisely describe the relationships and discussions that Childs develops with artists, composers, and choreographers in the frame of what is usually called “minimalism”, we will not touch this question in this article.
The 40 square foot dimension is specified in several documents related to Calico Mingling. In (Childs 1975, pp. 33–36), the choreographer mentions that “the audience is seated on all sides of thirty-six by forty-foot square space”, which indicates that the dimension could be marginally adapted depending the site where the piece was performed.
Task based performances have attracted most of the attention of critics and scholars in the discussion about the Judson Dance Theater. Among the most recent and thorough analysis, Ramsey Burt proposes a general semiotics of the “allegories of the ordinary”, granting dancers “through their refusal to normative aesthetics expectations, […] to create a context in which embodied experiences could become a site of resistance” (Burt 2006, p. 21). Carrie Lambert-Beatty proposes instead an anthropological approach of this compositional technic, less attentive to normativity and transgression than long term historical change upon perception of time (Lambert-Beatty 2008, pp. 93–98). However, both historians share a similar chronology, ranging from 1961 to 1970, and the centrality of Steve Paxton’s and Yvonne Rainer’s works. Since Lucinda Childs never used this compositional technic, her work remains marginal in the historiography of the period. Burt and Lambert-Beatty, as Banes before them, have a difficulty to address the stakes of the next decades, guided by a teleological narrative culminating during the late 1960s with the politization of what they approached as the core of the Judson Dance Theater. Our investigation proposes a series of shifts—from dance pieces to company labour, from semiotics to crafts—in order to write a different narrative and revisit this crucial moment of post-World War II American dance history.
Childs and Mangolte remember that the shooting took place a couple of months after the performance at the Witney Museum. I have not found any evidence of the exact date of the shooting.
For the shooting, Nancy Fuller replaced Janice Paul who performed at the Witney Museum; she subsequently worked for the company until 1976.
Padow remained in the company until 1978, Brody and Fuller until 1976.
At the opposite end, the Judson Dance Theater social organization was characterized by affinities, interdisciplinarity, and a low level of technicality influenced by the deskilling avant-garde strategy of John Cage.
It could have been choreographed as a gesture of the legs and stylised as such.
Rudolf Laban labels as “shadow movements”, “the tiny muscular movements such as the raising of the brow, the jerking of the hand or the tapping of the foot, which have none other than expressive value. They are usually done unconsciously and often accompany movement of purposeful action” (Laban 1950, pp. 10–11). The “pré-mouvement” is described by Hubert Godard as “an attitude towards weight and gravity before one actually moves, on the only fact of standing. The expressive value of the movement will be produced by it” (Godard 2002, p. 237, tr. by the author).
For an account on 537–541 Broadway Cooperative created by George Maciunas, see (Kostelanetz 2003, pp. 78–84) and (Schang 2017).
Childs explicitly borrows the minimalist vocabulary to describe the organization of space in Calico Mingling. “Arrangement” was opposed to “composition” by the visual artist Mel Bochner to assert the difference between minimalism and modernism. “The word ‘arrangement’ is preferable to ‘composition’. ‘Composition’ usually means the adjustment of the parts, i.e., their size, shape, color, or placement, to arrive at the finished work, whose exact nature is not known beforehand [as Morandi’s bottles or De Kooning’s women]. ‘Arrangement’ implies the fixed nature of the parts and a preconceived notion of the whole [as in Sol LeWitt’s structures]” (Bochner  1995, p. 100). In this respect, one can understand why Childs insists that in Calico Mingling “each phrase regardless of the reordering in space, is repeated exactly in each situation” (Childs 1975).
The principle of the landmarks was experimented for the first time in Street Dance (1964). Childs pointed out architectural features and details on signposts or the sidewalk too small for the audience to see.
For an historical account on the construction of the square see (Lamarra Graham 2014, pp. 87–90).
In September 2017 at the Batie Festival, Geneva, Calico Mingling was recreated by Ruth Childs assisted by Ty Boomershine. The piece was danced by Ruth Childs, Anne Delahaye, Anja Schmidt, Pauline Wassermann, and Stéphanie Bayle.
Until the 1970s, most of the international tours were organised under the guidance of the State Department, such as the Merce Cunningham Dance Company international tour of 1963–1964 or the numerous tours of the Martha Graham Dance Company as explored by Victoria Phillips in her recent Martha Graham’s Cold War: The Dance of American Diplomacy (Phillips 2020). Dance pieces were branded under the label “modern dance” in the frame of Cold War propaganda, an implausible designation for Downtown companies, which in turn foreclosed possibilities of touring. However, touring in Western Europe increased over the following decade through a new emerging network of theatres, dance festivals, and biennales. The Lucinda Childs Dance Company toured internationally from 1978 onward, and Dance was its first international production for theatre.
Discussion with the author during summer 2015 and statement reported by the former dancer of the company Ty Boomershine in November 2019.
The development of track drawing in the late Renaissance is bound to Neo-Platonism. Body movements mirror the dance of all celestial bodies to the music of spheres. See, among others, the introduction of Julia Sutton to Fabritio Caroso, Nobilità di Dame, (Caroso  1986) and the political background provided by (Franko  2015).
For instance, Rudolf Laban considered weight as one of the four major factors of movement.
For instance, (Hutchinson Guest 1989) discusses “the apparent advantages and disadvantages of the different systems”. One of her argument against Beauchamp-Feuillet is based on the absence of difference between steps and leg movements, which is described by Laban as a change, or absence of change, in the distribution of weight.
In 1933, André Breton wrote his famous article about automatic writing, “Le message automatique”, Max Ernest started experimentations with drippings in 1941 and influenced Jackson Pollock who developed action painting from 1944. For the long history of unconscious writing and drawing see (Audinet and Godeau 2012).
Ecstasy was part of 1920s and 1930s modern dance vocabulary, part of a primitivist approach to abstraction.
This point was confirmed by Lucinda Childs in an interview with the author recorded at the Centre national de la danse in 2016.
The Lucinda Childs Dance Company ceased operating in 2000. Between 2013 and 2019, the company was recreated under the umbrella of the independent production company Pomegranate Art. Today, Childs’ repertory is transmitted by the choreographer, former members of the company, and Ruth Childs, her niece. Childs also works as a freelance choreographer for ballets, independent companies, theatre, and opera.
The checkbox is visible on the Figure 7.
The discussion about the forms and status of memory in dance and performance led to strong controversies between the 1990s and 2010s. In the United States see the opposite points of view of (Phelan 1993) and (Auslander 1999), in Europe, (Van Imschoot 2005) and (Pouillaude 2009), among others.
The description of such “systems” has been one of the major contributions of literacy studies and anthropology in order to approach “distributed cognition”. Instead of taking the individual agent as its unit of analysis, these approaches are interested by the socio-technical framework where humans and non-humans interact. Among major contributions see (Goody 1977), (Latour and Woolgar 1979), (Hutchins 1995; 1996), and (Goodwin 1994; 2018). In this article, I propose to adapt this method to an historical research.
For a general account on Holm’s career see (Sorell 1969).
For the history of this diaspora see (Partsch-Bergsohn 1994) and (Manning 1993, pp. 255–85).
Eve Gentry gives a precise account of this early development of Labanotation in New York (Gentry 1992, pp. 17–21). Additional information can be found in Hanya Holm Papers, (S) *MGZMD 136, Jerome Robbins Dance Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
For a short history of the Dance Notation Bureau, see (Lu 2009) and their website: http://dancenotation.org (accessed on 19 November 2020).
This specific point is stressed by (Gentry 1992, pp. 9–40) and in the interview conducted by the author with Lucinda Childs in 2016. Hanya Holm papers at the New York Public Library give an approximate idea of what was taught during this period in her school. (Manning 1993, pp. 271–73) analyses the evolution of Holm’s teaching of the 1940s and 1950s. I prefer to nuance her idea that Ausdruckstanz (expressionist dance) was “domesticated” by American modern dance.
Floor plans are employed marginally in the kinetography of Laban.
About this distinction, see (Manning 1993, p. 91).
(Gentry 1992, p. 17) reports the following discussion with Holm when she started teaching around 1940: “[Holm] said shaking her head: ‘What do you want to teach?’ ‘In this first lesson I want to teach body directions, levels, and transferences of weight.’ I knew the right answer; I had learned them in Hanya’s theory class. ‘All right! All you need to do is keep in mind the germ, the basic idea. Don’t plan sequences! They can disintegrate—fall apart. You give your students the concept. You will see what they are ready to do. Then you can suggest the right actions, and they will not forget it!’ In those few words, Hanya gave the key for creative thinking and creative teaching—a limitless source of imagination and action. I learned to teach ideas—concepts—not things.”
(Banes  2011) introduces a succession of styles from analytic, to metaphorical, metaphysical, and content orientated, which characterized postmodern dance’s evolution from the 1960s to the 1990s.
On this aspect, see the controversy between (Banes  2011), on one side, and (Banes and Manning 1989), and (Franko 1995), on the other.
We could be guided by the concept of “Relation” developed by the poet and philosopher Édouard Glissant: “La pensée de la Relation, à laquelle il faut revenir, en fin de cette liste, comme à toutes splendeurs qui à la fois relient, relaient, et relatent. Elle ne confond pas des identiques, elle distingue entre des différents, pour mieux les accorder. […] Dans la Relation, ce qui relie est d’abord cette suite des rapports entre les différences, à la rencontre les unes des autres” (Glissant 1990, p. 72).
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Forster, L. Towards an Embodied Abstraction: An Historical Perspective on Lucinda Childs’ Calico Mingling (1973). Arts 2021, 10, 7. https://doi.org/10.3390/arts10010007
Forster L. Towards an Embodied Abstraction: An Historical Perspective on Lucinda Childs’ Calico Mingling (1973). Arts. 2021; 10(1):7. https://doi.org/10.3390/arts10010007Chicago/Turabian Style
Forster, Lou. 2021. "Towards an Embodied Abstraction: An Historical Perspective on Lucinda Childs’ Calico Mingling (1973)" Arts 10, no. 1: 7. https://doi.org/10.3390/arts10010007