REVIEW: Ballet de L’Opéra de Lyon’s premiere of ‘Dance and Set and Reset/Reset’

Ballet de L’Opéra de Lyon kicked off a three-night run at the Teatros del Canal in Madrid, Spain with a double bill premiere of the reconstruction of two highly considered postmodern American choreographies: Lucinda Childs’ Dance and Trisha Brown’s Set and Reset/Reset.

Created 40 years ago, Dance was Childs’ first professionally significant piece, as her work prior had been predominantly short pieces and solos. The 1979 creation was a joint effort between composer Philip Glass and artist Sol LeWitt, who created the film that is projected on a transparent scrim at the front of the stage and that simultaneously repeats the scene being performed by the live dancers. The film was painstakingly remade with Lyon’s current dancers by Marie-Hélène Rebois and serves to multiply the dimensions of the stage and the number of dancers seen performing.

Dance. Photo by Jaime Roque de la Cruz.

Dance is a minimalist piece and a well-made one at that. The three-scene, 55-minute work starts strong with precisely defined visual elements: repetition, mirroring and small variations that almost imperceptibly change what otherwise seems like a constant and consistent loop. In the first scene, pairs of dancers who mirror each other’s steps work their way horizontally across the stage in waves, with multiple sets of two dancers following and crossing each other. The music works in the same way as the choreography, a short minimalist tune plays in a loop, but each time it starts again there is a slight variation. 

Dance. Photo by Jaime Roque de la Cruz.

Although it is accurate to say that Dance is a work in constant change, the minimalist nature of said change makes it fascinating for about 10 minutes and tedious for most of the remaining 45 minutes. Although the second scene shifts from a group of dancers to a solo dancer, the majestic Noëllie Conjeaud, it only manages to reignite a bit of interest for another few minutes before slipping back into tedium.

Dance. Photo by Jaime Roque de la Cruz.

The third scene, which reverts to the group piece is just more of the same, and at this point the audience has disengaged. Audience members at the Teatros del Canal could be heard audibly whispering their exasperation between scenes. The brilliantly white clad bodies zip back and forth in the bright light, physically tiring the eyes, and in my personal case, igniting a headache, forcing me to find some relief in the darkness behind my closed eyelids.   

The end of the piece sent several audience members scurrying for the exists, while others remained to politely, but not particularly enthusiastically, applaud the dancers, who’d done a magnificent job with a piece that could not have been easy or fun to perform, and Lucinda Childs, who came out to join the dancers in a bow.

Set and Reset / Reset. Photo by Michel Cavalca.

The significant number of empty seats was instantly noticeable upon return from intermission. Unfortunately, those who chose to stay were not rewarded for their fealty.  Whereas Childs’ work has definite sparks of brilliance and a clear aesthetic aim, the reconstruction of Tricia Brown’s work, renamed Set and Reset/Reset, is just unstructured noise. 

Set to experimental music by Laurie Anderson and featuring a set designed by artist Robert Rauschenburg that has little to nothing to with the action taking place on stage, the piece may have surprised audiences when it was created in 1983, but in 2019 it just comes off as your run of the mill, mediocre, contemporary dance piece.  Picking out even one memorable moment from Set and Reset/Reset’s 23 minutes is, honestly, impossible