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Flash 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 -- show 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 the Unspeakable"

By Chris Dohse
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 or rote.

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 untidiness.

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 party.

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 click here.)

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