Deborah Hay Dance Company – review

Deborah Hay Dance Company – review

Deborah Hay Dance Company


March 29-31, ODC Theater, San Francisco

“I recognize my choreography when I see a dancer’s self-regulated transcendence of his/her choreographed body within in a movement sequence that distinguishes a given dance.”

Deborah Hay was one of the Judson Dance Theater artists working together in New York in the 60’s, during a time of fervent change, when pedestrian movement superceded all the theatrics of Graham and the rest of the early pioneers in the field. Her work also reflects the fact that she left the city after that period, to live in the relative isolation of a community in Vermont. “Mountain”, presented at the tiny ODC Theater, in San Francisco during a national tour, showed that Hay, all these years later, is still doing fresh work.

“What I mean by my choreography includes the transmission from me to the dancer, of the same set of questions I ask myself when I am performing a particular movement sequence that ministers shape to a dance. I will not talk about my movement choices here, except to say that as an aspect of my choreography they fall almost exclusively into three categories: 1) impossible to realize,

2) embarrassing to “do”, or, idiotic to contemplate,

3) maddeningly simple.

These movement directions are not unlike my questions that are 1) unanswerable, 2) impossible to truly comprehend, and, at the same time, 3) poignantly immediate.

“Mountain” was created with the collaboration of three dancer/choreographers, Gaelen Hanson, Peggy Piacenza, and Amelia Reeber, who are all based in Seattle. The trio performs long, quirky movement phrases without music. Everything is elaborately simple, theatrical with the use of vocalization (grunting and gurgling, nonsense language) and loaded with interesting details manifest not just in movement but in costuming (bits of tulle wrapped around ankles) and lighting (Dave Proscia’s lights create their own sense of character here).

The three dancer/choreographers are mid-career artists in their own rights, Hanson was a director of “33 Fainting Spells, ” Piacenza and Reeber both worked with Pat Graney Company, and each has a separate performance style and look. This is not dance from the big-jumping, hyper-technical, Julliard-trained school, it is something more satisfying because of the smaller scale and much deeper intention. It is the perfect kind of dance concert to take place in an intimate setting like ODC’s.

Each dancer was asked, after a period of development during which “Mountain” was developed, to return to the studio separately, for 3 months each, in order to create a response, or re-telling, of the dance, this time as a solo. The results of this are a most interesting theme and variations. “Myth” by Hanson, “Make-Believe; Song-Arrow-Spirit” by Piancenza, and “Peak and Draft” by Reeber were fascinating and distinct takes on the spirit as well as the steps and shapes of “Mountain”.

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Mr. Simpson has a BA in Journalism from the University of Southern California and worked as an advertising writer in Los Angeles before moving to New York to pursue a different passion: dance. He danced professionally in New York and Boston before founding a community-based modern dance company, Small City Dance Project, in Newburyport, MA. His fiction has appeared in literary journals and anthologies. He was a teaching fellow at Smith College, where he received his MFA in choreography. While living in the Bay Area for 15 years, he wrote about dance for the San Francisco Chronicle and other periodicals. In 2005, he was a NEA Fellow at the Dance Critics Institute, American Dance Festival. For, he reviews dance, theatre and film. He moved to Santa Fe in October, 2008. He writes for "Pasatiempo," the Arts magazine of the "Santa Fe New Mexican."