Five Different Takes on One Woman’s Work


Although “O,O” is billed as being performed by the Deborah Hay Dance Company, the effect is less of a company than of five very different individuals—Jeanine Durning, Neil Greenberg, Miguel Gutierrez, Juliette Mapp, and Vicky Shick—adventuring in an eccentric world. Let’s call it Hayland. As she did for her 2004 Match, Hay has gathered some superb performers active in the downtown scene and taught them a solo she made for herself. It is up to them, with her directorial input, to put their personal imprints on the material and find ways to interact in performance. They know the rules, they know one another, and since all are choreographers themselves, they know how to make interesting choices.

When Hay (now based in Austin) first began to show her choreography as a member of Judson Dance Theater in the 1960s, her works—in accord with one of the prevailing aesthetics—were structured like pristine tasks, to be accomplished with matter-of-fact efficiency no matter how improbable. Later in her career, she began investigating her body on a cellular level and becoming aware of all the tiny changes that that vision implies. “O,O” reflects her sensuous, unpredictable, sometimes whimsical solo dancing and her view of choreography as discovery; it also, like her earliest work, progresses in an orderly fashion . The performers finish one “task”—e.g., moving, singing, or muttering unintelligible gibberish—and shift on to another; sometimes one of them signals or initiates a change. Their quietly compelling activities come to resemble the daily carryings-on of an alien yet familiar society.

One of the chapters in Hay’s recent book, my body the buddhist, is titled “my body seeks comfort but not for long.” I think of that in relation to “O,O”. Or maybe what I see is a search for comfort within discomfort. Surveying the church and us, Greenberg and Durning begin the work—dressed in black, bathed in Jennifer Tipton’s exquisitely severe lighting. They revolve very slightly to one side and then the other, their arms and hands making small, curiously stiff movements close to their bodies. It’s as if the little jointed figures that artists use were adjusting their own poses with finicky care. The others enter and join in their own fashion, Shick serenely twisting her body far against the direction her feet are pointing.

This is not the kind of dance that makes you ask, “Why are they doing this?” They just are. If Durning starts singing quietly—to the tune of “Tico Tico”—”You are my only one, you are my only one, you are my one, my one my only one,” and everyone else starts to stride and stop in the corresponding rhythm, and if they then decide to cluster and sing it together, fine. If Mapp builds her vocalizing into a yell or Durning escalates some gibberish into an ugly rant or Gutierrez starts reeling gawkily, I’m up for it. The five rarely touch, but they’re certainly on the same wavelength—exploring Hay’s world in their distinctive, hyperaware ways.