Four Elements

by Lucinda Childs

Four Elements

Renowned for her sleek minimalism and for turning the slightest movements into an intricate choreographic masterpiece, Lucinda Childs’ unique style has been described as “stage heaven” (The Guardian).

Inspired by a series of paintings by American artist Jennifer Bartlett, which form massive backdrops for the work, and realising a long-held ambition to collaborated with British composer Gavin Bryars, Childs uses her trademark repetition and variation of lyrical dance phrases in Four Elements to evoke the elemental natures of “water”, “earth”, “air” and “fire”.

Lucinda Childs
Assistant to Lucinda Childs (2014 revival):
Amanda Britton
Gavin Bryars
Jennifer Bartlett
Howard Binkley

Four Elements was premiered by Rambert on 16 November 1990 at Apollo Theatre, Oxford. Revival premiere by Rambert on 20 May 2014 at Sadler's Wells, London.

'[Four Elements] could be described as amplified simplicity, so cleverly does it take a straightforward movement - walking, jumping - and weave it into a complex pattern ... a classic, by any standards"

Debra Craine, The Times

Lucinda Childs: a pioneer in post-modern dance in America

“New York-born Lucinda Childs began her choreographic career in the early sixties as a founder of the ground-breaking Judson Dance Theater – a group of radical choreographers, including Yvonne Rainer, Trisha Brown, and Steve Paxton, who together with poets, musicians, artists and writers redrew the landscape of modern dance.

Influenced by the ‘strength and simplicity’ of Merce Cunningham’s work, her early pieces experimented with ordinary everyday movement abandoning technical dance, thus becoming more radical than Cunningham himself. All these works, performed in silence or to spoken dialogue, were striking in the way that they combined the strictly formal with dancing that was sensuous and serene: “What we were fighting for – especially my generation – is that dance is in and of itself a beautiful thing … It can just be the form itself, as an abstract form, and still be a moving experience, and a human experience” (from Postcriptum documentary).

Childs finally gained public recognition in 1976 for Einstein on the Beach, a five hour opera in collaboration with the American minimalist composer Philip Glass and the theatre director Robert Wilson. As well as working for the first time to music, this period also represented Childs’ move from site specific or less formal venues to the proscenium arch stage and marked the beginning of a seminal collaboration with minimalist artists such as Glass and Sol Le Witt.

In Childs’ distinctive style, the dancers seemingly set in perpetual motion skim the stage and hover just above it but never rise sufficiently high as to seem divorced from their earthly state. Driven by the tempo, accents and rhythms of the music, her minimalist choreography is characterised by precision and repetition and features relatively plain and fundamental dance steps, many of them deriving from classical ballet.

Revered in Europe for over twenty years and in recent times enjoying new-found respect in America, Childs has choreographed for major companies such as the Paris and Lyons Opera Ballets, the Berlin Opera Ballet, Boston Ballet and Mikhail Baryshnikov’s White Oak Project which came to Sadler’s Wells in 2002. However, she is possibly best known today for her contribution to modern and classical opera, which includes choreographing and directing Vivaldi’s opera Farnace for the Opera du Rhin.

Rambert’s decision to commission and perform Four Elements in 1990 represents one of Childs’ first and very few appearances in the UK. With its revival in 2014, British dance audiences once again can discover or rediscover the elegance, restraint and cool beauty of Childs’ still revolutionary choreography.”

Henrietta Bannerman Head of Postgraduate Research, London Contemporary Dance School

Dancer: Dane Hurst.


Lucinda ChildsLucinda Childs

Lucinda Childs began her career as choreographer and performer in 1963 as an original member of the Judson Dance Theater in New York. After forming her own dance company in 1973, Ms. Childs collaborated with Robert Wilson and Philip Glass on the opera Einstein on the Beach in 1976 participating as principal performer and solo choreographer for which she received an Obie award. In the subsequent revival in 1984 Childs choreographed the two Field Dances for the opera which was performed at the Barbican in London in 2012.

Childs has appeared two other Wilson productions presented in London, among them: Marguerite Duras’ Maladie de la Mort opposite Michel Piccoli 1996, and I Was Sitting on my Patio This Guy Appeared I Thought I Was Hallucinating opposite Robert Wilson, in 1978. Ms. Childs dance company performed recently at the Barbican 2011 with Dance, choreographed in 1979 with music by Philip Glass, and a film/decor by Sol LeWitt. In a Washington Post review of Dance, Alan M. Kriegsman wrote, “a few times, at most, in the course of a decade a work of art comes along that makes a genuine breakthrough, defining for us new modes of perception and feeling and clearly belonging as much to the future as to the present. Such a work is Dance.” Available Light (1983) with music by John Adams and split level set designed by Frank Gehry will be revived for the company’s 2015-16 season along with a new work in collaboration with Philip Glass and visual artist, James Turrel.

In addition to Rambert, Ms. Childs has received a number of commissions from major ballet companies in France, Holland, and Germany, and has choreographed and directed several opera productions including: Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice for the Los Angeles Opera, Mozart’s Zaide for La Monnaie in Brussels, Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol et Oedipe, Vivaldi’s Farnace, and Handel’sAlessandro, which was voted Opera of the Year by Mezzo-TV, and most recently a new production of John Adams Dr Atomic for the Opera du Rhin in May, 2014.

Childs received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1979. She is also the recipient of the NEA/NEFA American Masterpiece Award, and in 2004 she was elevated from the rank of Officer to Commander in France’s Order of Arts and Letters.

Gavin Bryars

Gavin Bryars, born in 1943, studied philosophy but became a jazz bassist and pioneer of free improvisation with Derek Bailey and Tony Oxley. Early iconic pieces The Sinking of the Titanic and Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet achieved great popular success.

Works include three operas, a large body of chamber music, several concertos and much vocal music he has collaborated widely with visual artists, theatre directors and various choreographers such as William Forsythe and Merce Cunningham.

Since 1986 he has performed, toured and recorded with the Gavin Bryars Ensemble, which now includes singers Anna Maria Friman and John Potter. He has made many recordings for ECM, Point, Philips, Naxos, Decca, and his own label GB Records.

Bryars recent works include Marilyn Forever, a chamber opera for Aventa Ensemble, premièred in Autumn 2013 in Victoria, Canada, and a full length ballet, Pneuma, created with choreographer Carolyn Carlson for the Ballet of the Opéra National de Bordeaux, premiered in March 2014.

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