LeWitt made a black-and-white film of the dance, which was projected during the live performance. The dancers moved with their filmic images, overlapping two dimensions with three, and monotone film with living color, in a continuous play of contrasts.
Yet as much as LeWitt’s film preserved the choreography, it also threatened to doom it. As the years passed, his three reels of 35mm film deteriorated so much that they could no longer be shown.
Until now. Technology — and audience tastes — have caught up with “Dance’s” innovation. The film has been transferred to a high-definition digital format. New dancers have been taught the steps, and the Philip Glass Ensemble has re-recorded the score. Happily, the results can be seen Thursday and Friday at the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center.
For Childs, 70, this renewed life for her “Dance” has been a surprise. Some years ago this repetitive, mesmerizing but severe work was big in France, welcome territory for other cerebral experimentalists such as Merce Cunningham . . . but here? And yet Childs has been touring the country with “Dance” for two years, with dancers who weren’t even born when the work premiered. A bare, brainy work from the high priestess of minimalism, touring the country like a Broadway road show!
And to think, cold and methodical as it is, “Dance” could get audiences steaming with anger in its early years.
“I guess it was the reduced ballet technique,” Childs said recently by phone from Minneapolis, one of her tour stops. “They’d say there’s no vocabulary there. But actually it’s pretty complex. . . . So people got angry because this looks easy — you know, ‘Oh, they’re just skipping around.’ ”
In truth, there is vastly more than that going on in “Dance,” though you could be forgiven for missing some of the minute variations in the sequences of kicks, lunges, turns and galloping steps. The film, shown on a transparent scrim in front of the dancers, juices it up, adding drama and mystery. If the grainy images of the 1979 cast seem like ghosts, then aren’t the live dancers, performing in perfect synchronization with their digital counterparts, the very embodiment of time?