PALACE THEATRE, MANCHESTER
Reviewed by Mark Brown
Since it was established in 2005, the Manchester International Festival has claimed its own distinct and valued place in the global arts festival circuit. The programming of Available Light, a dance work of genuinely world historic significance, speaks to the Festival’s burgeoning stature.
First staged, at the opening of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, in 1983, the piece brings together three towering figures in American late modernism, namely: choreographer Lucinda Childs, composer John Adams and architect Frank Gehry. Starkly minimalist, assiduously abstract, yet delightfully human, it achieves a brilliant symbiosis between the visions of three great artists who had not met before this project, and did not collaborate again after it.
The piece is performed on a truly spectacular stage architecture. A defiant, almost monolithic, post-industrial structure, it comprises a vast platform, which rests upon five pillars made of vertical and diagonal strips of metal. Two long sets of stairs carry the dancers from the performance floor to the platform, making their approach impressively grand, almost like that of a Roman emperor.
The tension between the simplicity of Gehry’s design and its sheer scale is, no doubt, intentional. It is just one of many pleasing paradoxes that run through the work.
Adams’s electronic score plays to an early-1980s sense of modernity, while also harking back to a classical musical heritage (including the organ music of Johann Sebastian Bach). As in the work of his fellow American minimalists Steve Reich and Philip Glass, there is an invigorating power in the variations which are flecked through Adams’s repetitions.
In Childs’s choreography, a dozen superb dancers (dressed variously in red, white and black) evoke, by turns, the mechanical dimension in modern life, and (not least in clever and humorous plays upon classical ballet) the defiant unpredictability of human experience. Perfectly synchronised, carefully calibrated movement by one group of dancers is juxtaposed with stasis, or an entirely different motion, on the part of another group. The consequence of this tension between self-discipline and creative freedom is dance of hypnotic beauty.
Ultimately, the enduring importance of this work lies in its reflection of the United States’ contribution to artistic modernism since the Second World War. It could hardly be more redolent of this great tradition were it to be danced in front of the paintings of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko.
Until July 8.
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on July 7, 2017
© Mark Brown