Cal Performances, at UC Berkeley, just celebrated minimalist composer John Adams’ 70th birthday. It did so with a revival of “Available Light” –-a 1983 collaboration with Lucinda Childs and Frank Gehry. Adams was only 37 when Childs selected him to compose this score and was not as celebrated as she was. Neither was Gehry (now 87) who was just beginning his rise as superstar designer and architect. “Available Light” was commission by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles to inaugurate its Temporary Contemporary space (now the Geffen Contemporary.) Originally the piece was created as a site-specific dance performance set within a car repair garage. The garage framed Gehry’s asymmetrical, split-level set with a chain link scrim and gave it context–something that is lost in his adaptation at Zellerbach Hall where the proscenium makes his set feel dated and one-dimensional. When this same revival was presented in Los Angeles in 2015 at Gehry’s famed Disney Hall, this same chain link scrim functioned more as a veil in front of the concert hall’s massive curved wood pipe organ–also his design—and gave the set greater dimension.
By comparison, Adam’s score, with its three movements for synthesizer and pre-recorded brass, is as relevant and engaging as ever, as is Childs’ timeless choreography, based on the reduction of a handful of ballet movements in repetitive fashion. There are times when the choreography becomes ambient to the score and other segments when the music–that includes sound design by Mark Grey—engulfs the choreography completely. Throughout this 55-minute performance 11 tireless dancers performed on two different levels in a variety of groupings, flowing perfectly in synch even when they were not easily in view of one another. Childs attributes some of this success to the fact that this particular company has been together for eight years, making heady choreography come off as ascendant and effortless, even as dancers drip and shine with sweat.
And sweat they did, wilting redesigned red, white, and black costumes by Kasia Walicka Maimone, which come off as something between Star Trek outfits and neo-Greek swimsuits complete with sashes and folds. Yes, the original billowy Tai Chi-like costumes of the same colors desperately needed this redo but Maimone’s designs, which hit the mark in silhouette, were the most ornate element of this proudly minimalistic performance, and the least flattering to the more full-bodied dancers. Adding to the festive and historical nature of this evening, as well as bringing “Available Light” further into this decade, was a live Facebook video stream of the performance, and a post-performance discussion/reunion with Adams, Childs and Gehry.
David E. Moreno