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Lucinda Childs began her career at the Judson Dance Theater in 1963 where she choreographed thirteen works and performed in works of Yvonne Rainer, Steve Paxton, and Robert Morris. Since forming her dance company in 1973, she has created over fifty works, both solo and ensemble.

In 1976, she collaborated with Robert Wilson and Philip Glass on the opera Einstein on the Beach, as principal performer and choreographer for which she received a Village Voice Obie award. In the subsequent revival in '84 Childs choreographed the two "Field Dances" for the opera. Childs has appeared in a number of Wilson's major productions among them, Marguerite Duras' Maladie de la Mort, Wilson's I Was Sitting on my Patio This Guy Appeared I Thought I Was Hallucinating, Heiner Muller's Quartett, and Wilson and Glass' opera White Raven.

She received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1979 for her collaboration, Dance, with music by Philip Glass, and film décor by Sol LeWitt. In a Washington Post review of Dance, Alan M. Kriegsman wrote, "a few times, at most, in the course of a decade a work of art comes along that makes a genuine breakthrough, defining for us new modes of perception and feeling and clearly belonging as much to the future as to the present. Such a work is Dance".

Since 1981, she has choreographed over thirty works for major ballet companies which include the Paris Opera Ballet, Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, and Baryshnikov's White Oak Dance Company. She has also worked as choreographer and more recently both choreographer and director for sixteen opera productions including Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice for the Los Angeles Opera, Mozart's Zaide for La Monnaie in Brussels, Stravinsky's Le Rossignol et Oedipe, Vivaldi's Farnace, and Handel's Alessandro, voted "Opera of the Year" by Mezzo-TV 2013. In 2014 she directed a new production of John Adams Dr Atomic for the Opera du Rhin and Jean Baptiste Lully's Atys for Opera Kiel in Germany.

The Summerscape Festival at Bard College commissioned the revival of Dance in 2009, which continues to tour in the United States and Europe. Available Light (1983) with music by John Adams and set by architect, Frank Gehry will be revived for the 2015-16 season, and she is planning a new work for the company in collaboration with Philip Glass, and visual artist James Turrell.

Childs received the Bessie Award for Sustained Achievement in 2001, and was elevated from the rank of Officer to Commander in France's Order of Arts and Letters in 2004, and received the NEA/NEFA American Masterpiece Award in 2009.