The Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival has always had a populist tinge, particularly under the directorship of Jenneth Webster. With free admission and a wide range of dance and music events, the festival sprawls into just about every nook and cranny of Lincoln Center Plaza every summer, encouraging ambling passers-by to stop, look and perhaps even stay a while to watch the goings-on.
That was very much the spirit of the 1960s in New York City, which also happens to be theme of this year’s festival. On Thursday, a program called “60s Snapshots” looked back on that era in dance with short commissioned works by four choreographers, performed in and around the South Plaza.
The 1960s: a time when you could fall out of an affordable apartment into an affordable seat for dependably provocative theater, at least south of 14th Street, drawn by word of mouth alone. A time when you could watch the world shamble by from a perch on a neon-painted rock in the Psychedelicatessen on Avenue A. A time when anything and everything seemed to happen, on the stage and off.
Those days are gone for good, of course, and so Thursday’s choreographers — Gus Solomons Jr., Merian Soto, Yoshiko Chuma and Elaine Summers — could be forgiven for failing to recreate them. Ms. Chuma came closest with “Red Carpet 1967,” a piece in which four dancers walked, vamped and flailed up and down a strip of red that ran along a walkway between the Damrosch Park Bandshell and the little park to its east.
Like Ms. Soto, Ms. Chuma’s connection to the city’s dance scene of the 1960s is tenuous. But her credentials are otherwise just right, given her participation in one of the great populist moments in New York dance. (That was in 1988, when Ms. Chuma’s ready-for-anything swimmer-dancers were joined by a hot, impatient captive audience that had finally splashed back into the Astoria pools in Queens after too much free site-specific summer dance.)
There was no way to watch “Carpet” with an uninterrupted view, as audience members wandered about looking for better seats and pedestrians cut across to West 62nd Street. It was left to the four jazz musicians (Anthony Coleman, William Parker, Richard Marriott and Christopher McIntyre) who anchored “Carpet,” pouring out their buckwheat-honey music from stationary positions along the path. And so the piece was in effect performed by the dancers (Ms. Chuma, Ursula Eagly, Elise Knudson, Steven Reker and Saori Tsukada) and the city dwellers who formed an ambient and unpredictable supporting cast.
Ms. Summers was the genuine 1960s article, a pioneering and influential multimedia dance artist. Her new work, “Hidden Forests,” probably began as quite a different concept. But whatever its intentions, the piece was magical in the way it sent its dancers spinning through the growing dark in the bench-laden grove, momentary patches of light dappling the trees, the ground, a white moon-balloon and a dull silver umbrella. The haunting score by Pauline Oliveros sent high singing voices and mysterious musical sounds out to wind around a vaulting, running, standing convocation of ghosts in white and occasional silver glitter.
Mr. Solomons picked the right period composer, Frank Zappa, for his “Random Funny Walks.” But the piece for five young men dressed in what initially looked like bright-colored hazmat suits — oh, the lost innocence of the ’60s — was random to the point of aimlessness at times, with the grove area too spacious for the dance’s easy-loping choreography.
Ms. Soto opted for a traditional stage platform in her “What Is Love?,” dedicated to Ms. Summers, her mentor. Maurice Wright’s score suggested a delicate medium through which the five female dancers moved. The long tree boughs they held and the shapes of their bodies made intriguing echoes and counterpoints with the bending trees and plantings to the dancers’ north and the stern verticals of the Metropolitan Opera beyond. But it was left to Ms. Chuma to take us back to the ’60s.