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As with many in dance, Lucinda Childs finds inspiration from Merce Cunningham

March 7, 2011 |  6:30 am

ChildsWhen reflecting on her various teachers and mentors, choreographer Lucinda Childs seems especially indebted to Merce Cunningham. Becoming the late choreographer’s student, she says, swayed her from thoughts of pursuing an acting career. “I had been interested in acting, but there was so much that was demanded of you to be a good Cunningham dancer,” she says.

  The influence of Cunningham on Childs’ own illustrious career as a choreographer can clearly be spotted in “Dance,” her seminal 1979 work revived in 2009 that has been touring the U.S. and Europe. Coming to UCLA Live’s Royce Hall in May, “Dance” reflects Childs’ preoccupation with how repetitive movement sequences can lead to complex patterns and rhythms. But it also points to formative lessons about choreography that Childs learned specifically from Cunningham.

“My main interest was that it was valid to work with choreography without it having any narrative orientation, and this was controversial,” says Childs of her days as a student at Sarah Lawrence College and at Cunningham’s studio in the early 1960s. “Merce validated the idea that you could just be moving in space and doing beautiful combinations of movement that in and of itself have value.”

Merce Childs concedes that Cunningham also might have something to do with her lifelong zest for collaborating with other artists, which over the years have included composer Phillip Glass, conceptual artist Sol LeWitt and architect Frank Gehry. “I had wanted to be in Merce’s class not just to study with him but to also be in the presence of John Cage and Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg,” she says of the artists who collaborated with Cunningham. “Merce had gathered together so many fascinating people from the contemporary art world.... It was irresistible to me.”

Also in the tradition of Cunningham, who kept on working until his death at 90, the 70-year-old Childs can’t imagine retirement. Having worked extensively in recent years on commissions for ballet and opera companies, she’s now contemplating the revival of other classics from her oeuvre, such as her 1976 “Einstein on the Beach.”

“No, there are no plans to retire,” she says. “Personally, I don’t know of any choreographers who do. Either they keep going or they don’t.”

To read more about Lucinda Childs and “Dance,” click here.

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— Susan Josephs

Photo: Lucinda Childs (top). Credit: Peggy Kaplan.

Photo: Merce Cunnigham. Credit: Associated Press.

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