Lucinda Childs may be best known for her austerely beautiful choreography, but ever since her first creative experiments with the Judson Dance Theater in the ’60s, she has liked to perform. As recent White Oak Dance Project renditions of her Judson-era solo, Carnation, made apparent, that doesn’t always mean dancing: On July 10, 12, 13, and 14 she appears as an actor in the Lincoln Center Festival U.S. premiere of White Raven, a Robert Wilson-Philip Glass opera that marks the first major collaboration between these creative figures since the 1976 Einstein on the Beach.
This is the fifth of Childs’s forays into acting roles—all in productions directed by Wilson (Einstein, Wilson’s I Was Sitting on My Patio This Guy Appeared I Thought I Was Hallucinating, Heiner Müller’s Quartett, Marguerite Duras’s La Maladie de la Mort), with long intervals during which she returned to choreography, mostly in Europe. In White Raven, she plays the central role of the Writer who threads together the strands of time and place in the opera’s imaginary journey, inspired by the travels of 16th-century explorer Vasco da Gama (the piece was commissioned for Lisbon’s Expo ’98). Like most Wilson works, she says, it’s a fantasy, with a nonlinear narrative bridged by her monologues.
Childs has always enjoyed inhabiting the personae of dancer, choreographer, and actress. “Judson made me interested in dance, but it also made me feel torn between different things—technique, working outside the dance vocabulary, using objects and texts. I went to see Wilson’s Queen Victoria around 1974, and I loved it—the music, the work, the performers. So when Einstein—and the chance to work with him as a choreographer and a performer—came up, I was delighted.” Paradoxically, it may be that the severe formalism of Wilson’s work—like the architectural, geometric structures of Childs’s own dances—allows her a feeling of liberty. “There’s a lot of specific movement and direction in White Raven. But I think I’ll be able to interpret it in my way. I’m always given the freedom to create.”