Deborah Hay began in New York studying with Merce Cunningham and Mia Slavenska. She toured with the Cunningham Company on its World Tour in 1964 and was part of the Judson Church movement, but she has, over the years, carved out her own unique choreographic process. The CAP UCLA presented two of Hay’s works, As Holy Sites Go/duet performed by Jeanine Durning and Ros Warby and Figure a Sea performed by Sweden’s Cullberg Ballet at The Freud Playhouse. Unfortunately, I was unable to see the latter work, so will focus on the duet.

Deborah Hay - Photo by Rino Pizzi
Deborah Hay – Photo by Rino Pizzi

As Holy Sites Go was a trio based on Deborah Hay’s solo titled No Time to Fly (2010) and later evolved into As Holy Sites Go/duet. Just outside the Freud Playhouse courtyard, there were three projection screens with Amin Weber’s digital adaptation of Hay’s No Time to Fly, a video 24-person compilation of the duet and Hay speaking about her creative process. All three were quite intriguing and required time to fully absorb. The digital coding of Hay’s solo gave a computer generated look into how the dancers in her duet construct, celebrate and finally destroy a holy figure or site.

Jeanine Durning and Ros Warby in As Holy Sites Go/duet
Jeanine Durning and Ros Warby in As Holy Sites Go/duet

Hay stated that No Time to Fly was inspired by the horrific events of holy relics and sites being destroyed throughout the middle east. In her duet, Durning and Warby slowly and meticulously piece together their bodies into recognizable or familiar statues. They then sing or chant what vaguely resemble religious songs before collapsing to the floor. After a lengthy and totally motionless pause Durning and Warby slowly, piece by bodily piece, get back up and begin the process anew.

This dance was totally involving if one allowed it to be. It ran for just over an hour and the process was tedious at times. It took a while to see the process and results; to figure out the construction and destruction element of this work. There was humor; deliberate or not, but it was brief. What the viewer brought to the performance is what she/he saw as the dancers worked separately, or as they came together to form two figures chanting; only to suddenly crumble to the floor. Sometimes they collapsed in sections; a knee hit the floor before other parts of their bodies followed.  Other times they collapsed like a Jenga game when the last support tile is removed.

Ros Warby, Jeanine Durning in As Holy Sites Go/duet
Ros Warby, Jeanine Durning in As Holy Sites Go/duet

The movement vocabulary in As Holy Sites Go/duet has only hints of other dance styles. There is the second position plié, a leg extension or a ballet glissade, but Hay has created a unique physical verbiage for this work. It is quirky, jerky, sporadic and, if I may, physically sectional. The dancers’ bodies move in pieces as they move through the space, building upon themselves as they go like magnets picking up pieces of metal.

This was a dance that one should see several times to better grasp Hay’s intent and to see how it differs from performance to performance.  Jeanine Durning and Ros Warby are commanding performers and held the stage in the stark lighting by Laura Mroczkowski, based on Jennifer Tipton’s design for No Time To Fly (2010) and, for the majority of the time, performing in total silence. The only sounds were their occasional singing, talking, or their feet and bodies hitting the stage floor.

Kudos to the CAP UCLA for presenting these two works choreographed by the iconic choreographer Deborah Hay.

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