In addition to celebrating Philip Glass's influential compositions, Carolina Performing Arts' "Glass at 80" programming sheds light on artists in other media who worked with him. Two in particular stand out: the artist Sol LeWitt and the choreographer Lucinda Childs. LeWitt's work is on display at UNC's Ackland Art Museum through February 19, while the Lucinda Childs Dance Company performs classic work Dance at Memorial Hall on Tuesday, February 7.
LeWitt's "Incomplete Open Cube 7–11," from 1974, looks, in a way, like the shape its title describes. The sculpture's lines are in the right places, as are its junctures—except when they're not. A blocky bar ends in empty air; the sides don't always connect. The piece is broken geometry, not quite a hoisted cube. It wants to become another shape while staying exactly as it is.
I know of no proof that LeWitt was thinking of dance when he created the piece, but its undercurrent of movement feels inescapable. As I approached it in the small Ackland exhibition For Philip Glass: Joshi/LeWitt/Close, which also includes work by Deepak Joshi and Chuck Close, my instinct was to walk in a circle, surveying its weird lines from each possible angle. The object may be fixed, but the encounter is all motion; if my limbs weren't moving to crouch or gander from above, my eyes were working to figure out where the piece ends and begins. Viewing it necessitates a kind of dance.
In 1979, LeWitt, Childs, and Glass came together to create Dance, a work now hailed as a masterpiece of postmodern dance. Childs and Glass had collaborated previously, in 1976, on Robert Wilson's formalist, plot-eschewing opera, Einstein on the Beach.
It's fitting that LeWitt, a visual artist with little to no experience working in theater, helped Childs and Glass transform the theater itself. For Dance, LeWitt created a film installation that projects images of dancers—including Childs—performing sequences of her choreography. The movements are almost balletic, but with more swing, hop, and repetition. Dancers scoot across the stage, their timing hewing close to or veering sharply away from Glass's musical iterations.
The film, projected on a scrim, shows the dancers moving across a white grid. This multimedia structure challenges the audience's relationship with the performers onstage. At one point the grid tilts down diagonally while the live dancers seem to move underneath it, on another plane entirely. When LeWitt's film features Childs dancing solo, her body spins into something larger and larger—edging out from and beyond the stage—as the live dancer recedes, becoming a miniature. The lines of the grid, and of the proscenium, frame and propel the human figure; the figure, in turn, threatens to escape quadrilateral geometry.
Like LeWitt's "Incomplete Open Cube 7-11," Childs's Dance looks like what its minimalist title describes, asking viewers to reconceptualize concert dance and its theatrical infrastructure. Where does the piece end, and where does it begin?
This article appeared in print with the headline "Perpetual Motion."