“My focus is not so much on the content but on what can be done with the material,” she said. “Using the existing material. For me, it’s about what I did with it. The vocabulary is very, very basic.”
Before “Dance,” in fact, Childs didn’t even use music. All of her dances were performed in silence. Then she joined forces with Robert Wilson and Glass on the opera “Einstein on the Beach,” which premiered in 1976; she was the choreographer and leading dancer. That, she says, was “a big challenge and transition for me.” (She also took part in the opera’s revivals over the years, and her choreography will be reconstructed for a 2012 run at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.)
After “Einstein,” she wanted to work with Glass again. “Dance” was “completely inspired by the music,” Childs said, “studying the music, and finding movement phrases that I felt belonged there, to correspond to what’s happening musically.”
Glass, who had a wide circle of friends in the art world, introduced Childs to LeWitt. But painting some kind of backdrop for her dance wasn’t what LeWitt had in mind.
“Sol was not interested in doing a drop with the dancers dancing in front of it,” Childs said. “He said, ‘The decor is the dancers.’ ” He and Childs ruminated on how he could augment the action onstage, and finally came up with the idea of a film.
“It moves the audience above them and beside them,” said Childs, whose undiminished admiration for his film is evident in her voice. “There are so many ideas that he worked into the editing.”
Childs is depicted in the film; she is the one dancing the lengthy solo in the middle. Amazingly, she says she still danced that solo up until about 10 years ago.
Over the years, Childs has found more work in Europe than here, creating dances for ballet companies as well as choreographing numerous opera productions. Various French companies performed “Dance,” but Childs stopped mounting productions of it about a decade ago when the film began to fall apart.
In 2009, Bard College asked Childs to revive “Dance” for its Summer Festival — and undertook the film’s preservation with the latest digital technology.
“They took it on and preserved it in a way that I’m very happy about,” Childs said.
But the passage of time has not only made possible the preservation of LeWitt’s crucial film. It has also brought audience sensibilities more in line with Childs’s. Audiences today, the choreographer says, are vastly more receptive to “Dance” than they were when it was made.
“I’m so pleased this piece has had another life,” Childs said. “Thirty years ago, people questioned it — they doubted my motives, as if they were not serious.”
Childs laughs, and her laughter carries the ring of vindication.
“They don’t do that now.”
Thursday and Friday at the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center.