I watched this ten minute, black and white film for the first time last night and I am appalled and saddened by this fact. How could I have only watched such a incredible work so late in the game? I was doing what I often do when it’s late and I should go to bed but for some reason don’t feel like it – trawling through UbuWeb’s dance film archive, trying to find a piece that isn’t 2 hours long. When I came across this one I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it before. Not only is it an absolute gem regarding the history and documentation of postmodern dance, but it’s also a generally A Quite Superb work of art.
Filmed by (the quite famous experimental filmmaker?) Babette Mangolte and choreographed by American choreographer, Lucinda Childs, the film was made in 1973. Childs is a choreographer whose name I recognize (she studied with Cunningham and danced with Judson Dance Theatre) but whose work I don’t know very well. After watching this piece however I have decided to start familiarizing myself with her work properly. The movement in ‘Calico Mingling’ you could say is composed simply of walking. However, the ingenuity and beauty lies in the structure of the piece, through the complex patterns that are created with the simple action of walking. The choreography is both intricate and vast, something you could be very easily bored by if you do not notice both the detail of the lines created by the dancers and also the bigger picture that is this complete and moving organism.
This is where one can really appreciate the way the film has been made (and once more we all get excited about the things film can do to choreography and movement.) Switching between two shots – one directly watching the dancers, like an unmoving audience and the other a birds eye view of the piece, one can truly engage with the different types of depths and patterns that are made. The editing works so beautifully with the choreography. I especially love the way in which the dancer’s shadows literally add another layer, a special depth and element to the piece, that could otherwise appear quite flat.
The title of the piece is also a little bit brilliant. I’ve attached a little picture of the material, calico, so you can see why it is such a nice title.
This is the sort of choreography I feel is the hardest to create and perform. When watching the piece, I could only think, “How did she figure this out? How did she make this?”. Of course, this sort of movement is equally difficult for the dancers. Readers who have never performed in a choreographic work may not quite realize that this simple-looking piece must have been incredibly difficult to learn. And they do it so well, they even have the same foot when walking opposite directions! It’s like watching very difficult maths or physics unfold before you, but possibly a little bit more fun than real maths or physics.
Despite it being such a linear and structural work, the atmosphere remains quite organic. Especially through the ambient natural-sounding background noise and also in the raw and stripped down aesthetic. If I can convince you of one thing, watch this piece. Even if its just the first two minutes, it will clear your mind and relieve your soul. Like fancy, soothing, herbal tea or hot yoga – you won’t want to at first, but you’ll feel so much better afterwards! Although I cannot tempt you with an embedded video, give it a chance and click the link below: