Available Light review at Palace Theatre, Manchester – ‘living, breathing performance history’

Available Light at Palace Theatre, Manchester. Photo: Joel Chester Fildes Available Light at Palace Theatre, Manchester. Photo: Joel Chester Fildes
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Live performance is inescapably trapped in the present. Available Light, showing as part of the Manchester International Festival, is 34 years old (that’s: the same age as Blue Monday in Manchester years).

Originally commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles for the opening of its Temporary Contemporary space, it’s now sold on the headline super-group creators – choreographer Lucinda Childs (perhaps still best known for the movement in Robert Wilson’s Einstein on the Beach), composer John Adams (later: Nixon in China, Death of Klinghoffer) and the architect Frank Gehry (later: Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao) – as an opportunity to see some living, breathing performance history.

Adams here sounds like a composer experimenting with the edges of American serialism; a somehow muddier, less crowd-pleasing version of Philip Glass’ crystalline arpeggios.

Gehry’s stage design – giving no hint as to the direction of his later work – offers a pale fore-stage, and a first floor rear-stage, raised up on five metal cages, with a a metal fence backdrop, over which the lighting alternates between red and white.

Against this, Childs’s choreography creates increasingly complex patterns, with the 11-strong corps – male and female, dressed in red, white or black pants ’n’ sash combos, somehow redolent of ancient Rome – spaced out over the two levels, dancing what feel like “quotations” from ballet, in ever-changing, ever more complex formations.

Essentially, the piece (now) seems to exist as a series of formal exercises, through which we can perceive the three and a half decades of artistic innovation that followed.

A exercise in retro choreography evoking an earlier era of American artistic innovation