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Fully Awake: Olive Bieringa on Deborah Hay

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, Olive Bieringa shares her perspective on Friday night’s performance of Fire and  No […]

Deborah Hay, No Time to Fly, 2012

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, Olive Bieringa shares her perspective on Friday night’s performance of Fire and  No Time to Fly by Deborah Hay and Saturday’s As Holy Sites Go/duet. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

“The waiting might continue, and you feel like you’re failing and yet there’s no spite or malice, it’s done out of love and a striving for some kind of authenticity.”
Michèle Steinwald on Deborah Hay

No Time to Fly
Performed by Jeanine Durning

She enters through the side exit just as the last audience members are getting settled.

Dressed in a sequined jacket, black shorts, leotard, and black shoes. She has a wireless microphone. No hat.

The stage is open, with a flat cyclorama across the back of the space lit in low blue light. Lighting booms stand on the edges where the wings would end except there are none, creating a smaller space within the stage.

She begins by activating the whole space, visiting locations, she moves across the space, she serenades a boom, she stands by the screen half obscured by the side lighting, she comes directly downstage to us, a little soft shoe tap, she stands in the dark corner. Her barely audible murmurings have us lean in and listen with our whole bodies.

She sings a melody, swinging her arms contracting collapsing through the front of her body then snaps an erect spine, sits bones and skull reaching. Intentionally awkward transitions in and out of the floor. She is thinking her way through every shifting position. One moment she is leaning forward over her legs. Her arms held wide, hands like paint brushes tapping the floor.

An aria has begun again, she is singing it, do we know it, is it just made up for this moment? There is no other music or sound in the space. Rhythm of arms and legs in different time zones, rhythms evolving show show show time.

The breath, the effort, the murmuring we hear it.

Up against the back wall in the other corner of the space … sliding down, down, down, hand indicating and urging the pelvis in to the inevitable splits.

Her hand wipes her brow.

We wait.

She moves through the space, attacking it with her arms, feeling the solidity of her legs, the squeak of the shoes.

There are lots of gestures.

Dance references, jazz ballet, tap dancing, that hop skip–or is that a skip hop that I remember from watching Deborah dance this same solo in 2010 at St. Mark’s Church? What is transmitted through the scoring process that so many have danced that is similar? What is the directorial process for this particular evening?

I can feel the multiple layers of attention being held in the whole body of the performer. The timing is everything. The complexity holds us. The audience is so focused. A series of interruptions lead to elegant descents into awkward positions on the floor. Balanced on knees, head and back of hands. She begins speaking gibberish in a deep foreign tongue. Like a member of the Japanese mafia out in the alley or talking on a far away TV screen. More aria, this time almost falsetto, again corrupted into a descent and awkward stillness on the floor.

What’s the motor in her movement? Obviously the scoring of complex images. But what else? The song? The words? One limb cycling to rev up the core and move her across the space like a ship through the water?

She comes downstage to soft shoe again and declare, “Strictly speaking, I believe I have never been anywhere”–a quote from Beckett–and immediately begins humming a melody while her head is dropped and hands are half inserted in her pockets.

She travels behind the screen making a loud repeating sound with her mouth and tongue into the microphone and then comes out hop slide, delicate toe walking, arms wide to present herself to us her audience. And then there is something indicated on her head by her two hands, like a Javanese court dancer, the roof of a temple? More loud interruptions into slow descents and stillness, another interrupted melody now face down on the floor murmuring.

We come out as we entered yet changed.

She is murmuring in standing with back turned, talking to spirits we cannot see.

She fakes an exit.

Lights leaving dancer in silhouette in the middle of the stage.

The subtle shifting lighting designed by Jennifer Tipton through is extraordinary.

Performed by Ros Warby

She appears in a spotlight in a bold white leotard, white headband, black shoes and wireless microphone. Long limbs extended and then the movement begins. Fast limbs releasing, pelvis bounces, head bobs, sounds through the microphone, a Foley of her own body’s movements, knees out, plié, butt clasps, neck held tight, brain escaping.

Directly to us “who are you? Where are you from?

She holds a an invisible box between her hands, the bottom hand drops out.

“What do you want?”


A lot of marked songs, as if she was singing along with headphones, half remembered, half forgotten, fully improvised, fully embodied including guitar solos. Through the complexity of this embarrassing score we can see her, her timing, her humor, her physical skill, her commitment.

Abrupt cut as she walks toward the audience.

The limbs are a lot to manage. The awkward plié, maybe it’s the super awareness inside of the action that heightens the dance “moves” making the human into an odd animal. The recognizable dance vocabulary arrives and dissolves from unknowing locales. Cunningham arrives. Ros pitches and arabesques and balances.

So curious if the dancers intentionally forgot the score for a moment and let themselves ride. Would we feel let down? Abandoned? Would it be delicious counter to all this nervous system attention, just for a moment?

The audience is absolutely silent.

Facing backwards she begins an extreme lean to the left, reaching with her elbows to the ceiling as she extends upward. A wordless version of “You Are My Sunshine” becomes audible. And then she turns back to us: “Who are you? Where are you from? What do you want?” Again her sounds illustrate her movement, like the sound track for a martial arts movie, and then we are with the corp de ballet. Just for a moment. Arms crossed, elbows delicately reaching skyward as hands rest on the front of her shoulders. We wait. Her mouth becomes a mud pool. Hands illustrating her sounds. Bubbling and gently grotesque. And then she is jogging almost in place but slowing gliding across the floor, looking at the world, its different landscape features, as she travels through it. It shifts our location and the scale of the world we inhabit with her. CUT.

“Hon, I want you to wake up and look at the stars. There really beautiful tonight.”

A moment passes.

“Oh hon, I’m so glad you got up. Are you ready to come look at the stars?”


Her head is lowered her hands exposed and suddenly she’s peering through a telescope and then it’s gone.

“A heavy oval stone with a fine white oval shape lining the rock cradled in a red boat leaving shore” and she pushes off into the waters and departs upstage.

Because of the nature of Deborah’s scoring we taken on a surprising journey, it could go anywhere as long as it’s well performed.

As an audience we are super engaged trying to figure out the inner logic. What is driving this activity on stage? It is inspired and deeply considered work.

The complexity of the scoring leads to an intensity of presence, sometimes a marking or gestural quality in the movement, a fully awake nervous system. So much is being processed that sometimes the movement or the image only needs to be indicated, it shimmers before us, sometimes clear, sometimes only hinted at before the performer is pursuing something else. What is important is the “how” not the “what.” All perceptual systems fully engaged.

As Holy Sites Go/duet

In the program notes its says this work was originally a trio based on the solo No Time to Fly. This duet version was performed for the second time on Saturday night at the Walker.  Having watched No Time to Fly the night before it was kind of like watching an expanded rerun.

Again the performers enter just as the audience is getting settled. The stage is bare except for the lighting booms on each side and a cyclorama across the back of the space. Jeanine wears shorts, black top, and her shiny shoes. Ros, all in black; pants, black top with a very short ruffle cardigan. Both with wireless microphones.

Jeanine begins activating the space as she had the night before, visiting the cyclorama in the back of the space, the unlit edges of the space. It was exciting to have one performer begin and not know when the next would start. One waiting and watching as the other moved through the space. This occurred several times throughout the piece.

We hear the singing but now it’s two voices instead of one. Challenging to improvise a song and develop one’s own melody when someone else is doing the same thing next to you. Sharing sound space is not the same as sharing physical space. The singing becomes entangled. What does the duplication bring us?

The dancers circle the space coming together upstage or downstage. They start up a rhythm, keep it going, chase it, evolve it, be it, drop it.  A vague obtuse musicality manifests. The effort of keeping something going … sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s, well, effortful, and sometimes it’s so slippery it changes before you ever knew what it really was. The repetition begins shifting the humans into animals.

They are never directly social with one another, even when they came close, but highly aware of each other’s every moment, every breath, every sound. They stand side by side like a deconstructed party without music. They are more direct with us than each other. What if the formality of the relationship fell apart? What if the audience was no longer the front?

They stand far apart. They scan the space looking at different features of the unseen landscape. They make something out of nothing over and over again. We scan back and forward from one to the other like at a tennis match.

Their side-by-side angular descents into the floor were like two mating insects working the negative space. At one point Ros crosses below the horizon of her forearm with her gaze. Time shifts as she moves from above to below. Sometimes they descend, accompanied by quiet murmuring invoking other beings in the space. It was always a mystery where they ended up on the floor in relationship to one another, and how they would find from the waiting, the initiation back into ascending, to their more common uprightness.

One moment they both arrive miraculously downstage in unison pointing upward to quote Beckett again–“Strictly speaking I believe I’ve never been anywhere”–before the discontinuity cuts the action and our world is altered yet again. We are chasing rabbits just for the pleasure of it.

At the very end they stand turn to each other for the first time, settle, and then turn to us.

Fade to black.

It was interesting to notice how familiar I became with the vocabulary of the piece from seeing the solo the night before and then seeing the duet. In retrospect for me the solo was stronger. I was less interested in the loose symmetricality that occurred throughout the duet. I was curious about other spatial configurations. I am drawn to awkwardness and imbalance. I would be curious to see a trio version but imagining what it would look like is also fun.

Ros’s performance of Fire on Friday night was so strong and her range so dynamic that I was more excited about that earlier work than the detached cool of this later duet.

The question of performativity in Deborah’s work is an interesting one. I have seen several versions of people performing her solo commissioning project. For example last year I had pleasure of seeing Karen Schaffman perform Fire and Eric Geiger performing Art and Life at the Bryant Lake Bowl. Her earlier works were mostly created and performed on community dancers. About ten years ago she began working with rock stars of the dance community, and all of sudden everyone started noticing her work. Lots of formal recognition ensued with awards, funding, touring opportunities. The truth is the work was always good, and this weekend at the Walker, with veteran performers Ros Warby and Jeanine Durning, was no exception. The work is especially good from the inside. I say that from having danced in her group work titled Lamb, lamb, lamb in 1994 at Danspace, New York.

I missed seeing Deborah on stage!

I’m curious now that her rock star phase is over where she will go next.

She pursues a quietly radical path.


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