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Review 1, 2-17: O Deborah
In Hay World with Durning, Greenberg, Gutierrez, Mapp & Schick
"What is the truth
of the universe that fills your body and mind? Don't tell me --
-- John Daido Loori,
"The True Dharma Eye"
"Inside the fortress
of our skins we human beings have remarkable defenses against enemy
intrusions, but we are not impregnable."
-- John Money, "Reinterpreting
Copyright 2006 Chris Dohse
NEW YORK -- So Deborah
Hay's "O, O," January 26: in this version a showcase for five downtown
dance veterans (Jeanine Durning, Neil Greenberg, Miguel Gutierrez,
Juliette Mapp, and Vicky Schick). These bodies are as comfortable
inside Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church as five old socks in
an old shoe. As we enter, cell phones trill, powering down; we're
not particularly paying attention and the dancers enter consecutively,
taking the space to perform subtle gestures. They are immediately,
and as it turns out, irrevocably, embodiments of a sort of politesse,
a sort of Stoicism. They impassively ignore us, even though their
gaze includes us, as if well-trained figure models.
Some of them, the ones
wearing black, seem dressed for a cocktail party, while the ones
in white would fit in at a croquet match. No clues there as to who
these people are or why they're together.
As it turns out, they
don't ever get together. Rather, the entire piece becomes (monotonously,
I'm afraid) five heroic solos happening simultaneously. They do
sort of haphazardly achieve unison of intention or spatiality but
they never really dance with each other. More like in spite of each
other. When one of the women jumps into Greenberg's arms for a single
lift, the whole audience seems relieved for a moment. We lean in
with heightened attention; here's something we recognize!
No doubt we've entered
Hay World at this point. This is a place of serious, awkward and
ludicrous play. Given (from acquaintances who've danced them) some
familiarity with the way Hay composes scores for solos and then
coaches dancers to own them individually, I sit enveloped by my
"critical" mind like a hamster in a wheel, reading the dancers'
attacks and feints and evaluating their performances as nuanced
Hay World wears away
all points of reference from the "real" world. Mannered gestural
material that could be pretend-ballet looks natural, suitable. Dunno
about you; my real world often feels like a rut. But Hay World feels
like a gift, with crazy rhythms, incoherent dexterity, unpredictable
The dancers' awareness
of the space around them becomes the star of the show as they execute
Hay's silliness without acknowledging or colliding into each other.
Even when the other four edge away from a veiled Durning in the
final moment, they're not actually looking at her. There are tableaux
of quivering expectancy as the dancers seem to gather strength for
or wait for whoever's turn it is to initiate the next passage. What
else? A fake tap dance with all the grace of a dog wiping its butt
on the rug or an agitated day at the primate house. Even the tall
ones behave in a squat sort of way, as if they're mimicking what
I remember of Hay's compact torso and frequent plie.
And having familiarity
with each of these performers as both dancers and dance makers,
noticing their individual parries and thrusts within the score becomes
a sort of downtown dancers' celebrity tabloid expose. I hope for
surprises, relish qualities long admired. Or become irritated by
perceived cop-outs. I find myself evaluating how well they're doing,
like I'm grading them on whether or not they're being authentic
or making "interesting" choices. Who seems arrogant, who hides in
their comfort zone, who's a clown? They seem lonely within this
structure, five relics beeping and honking at Miss Haversham's bachelorette
I notice that I'm enjoying
myself a little selective inattention. Did somebody say they "fell
into a hole"? That phrase is written in my notes but I don't remember
anyone saying that. Perhaps it was me that fell into one.
I feel camaraderie with
Hay World and its intentions, I think. I mean, I believe in it.
So I can't help but wonder if this dance comments in some way on
war. I refuse to read the program notes, where that sort of message
might be hidden. But it's what we're all thinking about, right?
Wars of ideology, wars of systems against systems? The leaning we
share to defend our beliefs, the need to be right that ruins the
human community. And creates isolation. So if I look at these five
isolated people as a metaphor, my mindbrain sees five rigidities,
five starving solitudes. Each of them working so hard to get it
right while cementing loneliness.
That's the power of
this work perhaps, its ability to acquiesce to whatever nonsense
each watcher happens to be thinking about (see the two quotes above),
allowing boredom and the mind to wander. I already hear myself rehearsing
a sound bite: "While I staunchly advocate Hay World, I can't stand
behind this specific manifestation or believe that it is a particularly
good example of her peculiar form." But every visit to Hay World
invokes ritual too. I see and feel a benediction too.
Then the woman snoozing
near me leans forward for a final stab at losing herself. And Jennifer
Tipton's long, slow fade to black allows the light filtering through
the stained glass windows from Second Avenue to tenderly welcome
us back to our lives.
(Editor's Note: For more of Chris Dohse on Deborah Hay, please