During my choreographing years there came a time when the movements I came up with started to lose their glue. I then switched to a more “territorial” approach to making dances where I would use a qualitative map to figure out approximately what would happen where. Eventually, I let go of set movements altogether, however, I never landed on a workable matrix for making dances. I was left in a state of choreographic gloom. I tell you this story because I propose that Deborah Hay has found a way out of my so called “darkness” by making dances that do not rely on traditional methods. What follows is a “rambling” (not to be confused with a review) chronicling my experience of Hay’s recent work at DiverseWorks.
Demonstrating exact movements to be repeated in a certain order is just one approach to making dances. Deborah Hay departs from that approach to choreography with stunning results. A carefully planned strategy involving a precise set of instructions serves as a scaffolding from which the dancer crafts their unique dance. This process illuminates the individual rather than the choreographer. Dancers hone their solos through daily “practice.”
Hay asks dancers to “invite being seen.” Ten years ago I danced with Hay in a salute to John Cage. She used those very words to me. She also spoke of a kind of 360 degree radial attention, asking us to perceive ourselves being perceived. Years later, I find myself on the viewing end of that equation as “the guest” in the process. My perception is called upon as “seeing” completes the circle.
I had a chance to give my “dancing perception” a go when Hay was in town at DiverseWorks. Ros Warby, Scott Heron, Mark Lorimer, and Chrysa Parkinson, all accomplished dancers well versed in her method, performed in The Match and Solo Adaptations. I was fortunate to catch the Saturday night performance.
As Ros Warby takes the stage in a delicate gallop, I sense an almost physical calling. The invitation has a visceral edge. As if, with each prance, I am being pulled into the fabric of her experience. Her steady rhythm builds up a tension. A slight nodding of her head seems to check on my awakeness. I wonder, for a moment, if my attention drifts, will it be perceived by the dancer? Finally her dance breaks free of the gallop into a juicy mix of movement changing second by second. If I blink, I have missed something. I wonder, how necessary I am to the dance. What if Warby’s movement becomes itself through my perception, a kind of quantum dancing so to speak? That’s a bold thought, and I will just let it stand as an idea rather than a truth. Warby’s last gesture of bowing her head as her hat falls into her hand is a place to rest. The muscle of my attention gets to rest as well.
The Match begins with the same delicate galloping, this time performed by Lorimer. Soon the others enter and a richly textured stream of movement and sound envelope me once again. The clear channel of watching is now splintered into quarters, but later settles into a kind of collective viewing. At times I recognize thematic elements from Warby’s dance. At these times, I realize that I still perceiving Warby’s dance, which, technically exists in the past.
Mark Lorimer’s Solo Adaptation completes the experience. I see each Solo Adaptation as a branch from The Match. The Solo Adaptation acts as a dilation in time and space, born from The Match, but individualized by each performer, and once again by the viewer. Lorimer’s generous quality entertained throughout.
Hay’s work challenges the notion of a passive viewer. She uses the phrase “playing awake” as a way to train the performer in the nuances of “inviting being seen.” The viewer also “plays awake” as the receiver of the invitation. I offer my perception, as a gift of sorts, to the dancer playing the “host.” It seems to work, and better yet, shed some like on my choreographic gloom.