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Deborah Hay: Beauty Through Time and Leaving it Behind

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Wednesday night’s Talking Dance: A Lecture on the […]

Deborah Hay, No Time To Fly, 2010. Photo: Rino Pizzi

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, Penelope Freeh shares her perspective on Wednesday night’s Talking Dance: A Lecture on the Performance of Beauty by Deborah Hay. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Wednesday night’s … I’ll call it a lecture demonstration … had Deborah Hay talking about the process for her 2002 solo that became known as Beauty. She gave us the work’s chronology, its initial hiccups (different title and costume) and led us into a performance/reading of an article she wrote about it all (which is in the guise of a set of inspired instructions as though we, the audience/reader, are the performer). As Hay maps Beauty’s geography with marker and large white paper on an easel, two videos of her performing the work play simultaneously, one from each incarnation.

My task here is to offer my take on what I saw and experienced while also attempting to contextualize the works that will be performed this weekend as part of Hay Days.

Well, Deborah Hay is a force, a creature perhaps with all the instinct that that implies, but she is also a very deliberate wordsmith, intentionally spinning language into a just-barely-discernable tumble. “What if every cell in my body has the potential to perceive and surrender beauty simultaneously?” This is the question/premise that Beauty is based upon. Holy shit.

I am amazed by the question, by the thought behind it and the thoughts behind those, thoughts that go on to elaborate: “Onstage you shimmer. Shimmering is time passing: here and gone, here and gone, here and gone, here and gone, here and gone…”

What we have here is a sensibility aligned with a dance practice that offers choreographies highly crafted, scored and improvised based upon specific questions that ultimately require a performer to empty and be foolish.

As life and luck would have it, I saw Beauty in London in 2003. It was performed at the end of a day-long symposium with Yvonne Rainer and Deborah Hay. I will not dig for my notes from then now but, for all I know, they are the same as what I took tonight: quick scratches in an attempt to capture, well, anything. All her words are golden and honed to capture the imagination. They give permission and allow for individual interpretation. Her words come at the end of a long day of dance as ever-present: for her, for me, and for the me of 2003.

She is practical and enigmatic.

My best guess is that this weekend’s dances (Beauty will not be on view) will have undergone great discipline and rigor to arrive in this world. There is a great brain behind, beneath, and above it all. There will be informed bodies, intelligence, and raw sensory perception.

I am sorry to say I will miss these events, but you go. Go to spark your questions about what you think dance is and see what, actually, it can also be.

Any artist who, ten years later, still talks and writes about a dance and “performs” that lecture globally, is vital. She’s interested. She is asking more of us. “It helps us as dancers to be writing papers.” So, while I sadly can’t see these works this weekend, I will write about what I think about when I imagine what I would’ve seen.

Dance can be practiced in all kinds of ways. There are many pathways in fact, and therefore many to diverge from which, guess what, she encourages us to do!

“The world opens when you depart from the path.”

In other words, “detach from the blueprint.” It is good to have one and even better to leave it behind. It’ll always be waiting.