• Culberg Ballet in "Figure at Sea," by Deborah Hay.

Culberg Ballet

Deborah Hay’s “Figure a Sea”

Cal Performances UC Berkeley
October 22, 23, 2016

Past/Present

Deborah Hay “belongs to a group of choreographers who were behind the Judson Church Movement in New York in the 1960s, where daily life movements became part of the choreography and untrained people became dancers.” Her background and a history of awards and commissions from many dance companies,
Encouraged former artistic director of the Cullberg, Gabriel Smeets, to invite Hay because “I felt that the company with its reputation, should be the first European dance company to ask Deborah Hay to create a work.” She adds, “Her deep understanding of the core qualities of dance (body, space, time)…removes everything that does not belong there. There is nothing by dance and choreography.” Although the great choreographer Merce Cunningham advocated and accomplished the same with great results fifty years ago, today we are faced with post-modern dance. How de watch it?

The audience received a long pre-curtain talk by Hay about her history, her beliefs, her ‘practice’ and her vision. There were too many words for an audience most of whom had lived through the sixties and the decades after, who were familiar with all the ‘movements’. Dance first, talk after.

The dance itself, “Figure a Sea” amplifies and illustrates Hay’s intentions. Indeed the very well trained dancers of the Cullberg Ballet executed varying phrases of personalized movement (one assumes the material was Hay’s, not their own…but that was not clear.) There were many pleasant instances of grouped space, repetitive gestures that were well executed, moments of dynamic jumps and cross-stage leaps and many moments of stillness. But for this reviewer, the overall dynamic and direction of the piece was frustrating, challenging and often dull. One must constantly scan the stage to find a pleasing phrase: once found it is soon gone. Many of the interesting groupings and movement material was performed off-stage, in the dark.

The Cullberg Ballet is to be congratulated on executing Hay’s vision with such commitment and skill. An event such as “Figure a Sea” is both challenging and confrontational to audiences who have not followed the paths of post-modern dance. There was always something interesting to see in the phrases and the dancers’ skill. Each audience member faced the challenge to find what he/she might be looking for.

The very competent dancers are: Ulrika Berg: Barry Brannum, Anand Bolder, Eleanor Campbell, Jac Carlson, Anne Hiekkaranta, Eszter Czédulás, Samuel Draper, Unn Faleide, Katie Jacobson, Eva Mohn, Gestime Moog, Vera NevanlinnaCamille Prieux, Adam Schutt, Daniel Sjökvist, Sion Tanguey,Vincent Van der Plas, Katied Vickers, Tiran Willemse, and.Darío Barreto Damas. All are unique artists.

The sometime audible musical score was by Laurie Anderson. The grey/black/, black/blue “everyday” but effective costumes are credited to Marita Tjarnstrom.

Below: Cullberg Ballet in Deborah Hay’s “Figure a Sea”
No photo credit given

San Francisco,
Joanna Gewertz Harris, Ph.D, is a dance teacher, historian, reviewer, and lecturer. She taught dance and theater at UCB, UCSC, Cal State Hayward and Sonoma, and is a frequent contributor to scholarly journals and books, most recently to H'Doubler, and Legacy in Dance Education, both from Cambria Press. Beyond Isadora, Bay Area Dancing 1915-1965 , her book documenting Bay Area history (Price $40. + 2.00 shipping) is available from her web site beyondsadora.com and her e mail, joannagharris@comcast.net.