Deborah Hay

February 7, 2008

Deborah Hay

Danspace Project, NYC

February 7–9, 2008

Reviewed by Eva Yaa Asantewaa

—named for Deborah Hay’s arrangement of an audience encircling her circle of performers—was first presented at Danspace Project in 2006 with an American cast. Now, the choreographer has reprised this loopy charmer with seven dancers imported from France, including former New Yorker Jennifer Lacey and Emmanuelle Huynh, who directs the Centre National de Danse Contemporaine in Angers.

    At the outset, dancers take their places on the periphery and, with a tiny dip of the body here and a partial rotation there, slowly peer around in the stillness. Dated or eccentric clothing, smudgy makeup, fake scars and sometimes untidy hair make them look like society’s castoffs, and that’s even before they begin moving in earnest.

    “You are the only one…,” they sing. You might recognize the origin of this languorous, fragmented loop in Tico Tico, an old Latin tune. The original moved along at a peppy clip, but the dancers’ unemphatic singing and moving takes the melody somewhere else entirely. We become aware of sound and imagery as pointillistic realities—discrete and equal bits spread across a void.

    Nothingness and absence are, again, vividly expressed as each dancer slips into a partner-less tango, one arm curved in front, the other extended like a wing. They slow down, open arms wide, and gradually turn or step or look about. We’re constantly re-oriented to the fact of space; there’s enough to fall into. I opened my eyes wider as I felt myself slowing down with the dancers and floating amid clouds.

    At one point, one dancer begins a languid but unmistakable merengue: hips sliding, hands balled, arms pumping. Others follow suit. They move into a tight cluster, and the song rises again as a hum. Two men split off from the cluster and, for a while, go their own nutty way. Flutey voices chirp and toot.  

    The 50-minute work has two momentary blackouts, but there doesn’t seem to be a clear, dramatic arc within any of the three segments or much distinction from one to another. In fact, while you’re watching, it might not even matter where you put your focus. Casually gaze on the ensemble working away—sometimes in merry amusement—near the church’s altar steps. Or become completely absorbed by Lacey as she executes tipsy, gawky sequences right under your nose. Global or local, everything’s the same, all rather appealing nonsense.

    Hay, now a beloved elder in the community, was one of those Judson rebels who questioned and overturned every habit and assumption of theatrical dance. Her effects, though, are whispers gently making their mark. As lights fade on “O,O” she leaves us with the sensual resonance of chanting. Well, Danspace does reside in a church.


(Photo by Marc Domage, Courtesy Danspace Project)