CN D Magazine

#4 nov 23

Hair Rollers, Sponges and a Runaway Smile: Lucinda Childs’ Carnation

 by Ruth Childs

“The logic of Carnation is that of someone who is in effect in a situation similar to a parachute jumper leaving an airplane. Everything is on that person that [s]he needs, therefore the order in which [s]he does the things that [s]he does comes out of a necessary design which is essential to the completion of his fall” (Lucinda Childs archives)

I jumped into Lucinda Childs’ Carnation in the summer of 2014, in her then home and studio in Aquinnah, on Martha’s Vineyard. We started by organizing the materials, gathering the correct rectangular colored sponges, foam hair rollers, salad spinner and blue bin bag. I had brought a red leotard and pair of socks with me. Lucinda directly sewed the socks onto a white sheet that she had around the house. Then we measured the correct sizes for the white stool, table, and scenery flat. She explained that it was of utmost importance to have someone behind the flat during the show in case my bag and sponges fell over during the headstand. I remember thinking that Lucinda was already interested in the diagonal line in 1964 because the flat, table and final bag are placed on a diagonal. Each material belonging to Carnation had such a specific place and utility that once I had gotten to know these rules, I was able to learn the actual choreography very quickly.

Then little by little Lucinda gave me precise indications regarding the rhythm of the piece, directly related to the sound (of the sponges, the salad spinner falling on the table, my finger poking the blue bag, the bag dragging on my foot). She explained that I should coordinate the movement of my head (to the right or left) with the noise of the foam roller being pulled out of its sponge sandwich. The smile and frown also felt like materials that were used in a specific way in the piece. She told me that first the bag makes you smile, and then frown, because you can’t get the smile to come back, so that’s when the diagonal run and jump followed by the backwards somersault come in three times, like a motif, or a strategy to get the smile back. But it doesn’t work. Three times is not the charm. Cut. Noir.

I saw Carnation for the first time in 1989 on the BBC, in the UK. I was 5 years old. I found it funny and mysterious. I still find it mysterious as Lucinda mainly talks about the details of the piece. But I find that if I respect her details, Carnation starts to feel familiar, and I really do not need to know more.

Ruth Childs is a British-American dancer and choreographer, based in Geneva. In 2014 she founded her company Scarlett’s to develop her own work through dance, performance, and music. Since 2015, she is also working on a re-creation and revival project of the early works of her aunt, the American choreographer Lucinda Childs. Ruth is currently one of the artists in residence at Arsenic – art center for performing arts in Lausanne and the associated artist at CCN2- Centre Chorégraphique National de Grenoble.

Carnation (1964)
Choreography Lucinda Childs
Interpretation Ruth Childs
Taped at Centre national de la danse, sept.2016
Excerpt of the movie Early Works by Lucinda Childs, directed by Marie Hélène Rebois
© Daphnie Productions, CN D Centre national de la danse, 2016