Deborah Hay: At Once Twice

Image credit: Gunter Kravis Graphic design: DesignedbyDavidImage credit: Gunter Kravis Graphic design: DesignedbyDavid

Interpretation, adaptation, repetition, recreation… the words to describe Deborah Hay’s solo’s proliferation are as numerous at the times it has been performed. I have seen it twice before on separate occasions, performed once by Tania Soubry and once by Rachel Krische, and found much to enthuse about. The numerous variations of the solo are central to its concept. I am no Hay-expert, my knowledge of her process comes from second and third hand reports, but I find the performance quality that she instils in dancers to be very endearing. They are serious but also absurd and funny, they are meditative but also reckless, and they embody a state which is both unpredictable and aloft which makes me wonder whether what is going through their minds is actually anywhere near what is going through mine.

Joe Moran and Christopher House bring this experience to me again. Two in one night, however, is very different to two over the course of a year. The proximity of the solos allows me to see the mechanics of the work and by noticing repetitions and differences I gather an understanding of the solo as a scored improvisation. This revelation is interesting and makes me see how Moran and House have both tailored the solo to somehow belong to them and their personal artistic enquiries. And they are exceptional performers. Really they are. Moran and House are truly beautiful dancers. They each offer their desire to be watched as gifts to the audience and their performances are intriguing and moving. Moran is a sort of heartbroken creature – beseeching and wild. House is coy and defiant – his choice to add music and lighting design to the piece sometimes jars but it ultimately, and satisfyingly, offers a frame to the audience through which they can access the piece as choreography. I enjoy how the fact of there being definite lighting and sound cues seems to sit in juxtaposition with the improvisational aesthetic of the movement.

However the increasing transparency of the structure of the piece and my new (personal) understanding of it as being a set of simple of instructions somehow makes it less exciting. It makes me think about individuality and difference and I wonder whether teaching the same solo to a group of people emphasises or diminishes their differences. Interpretation is interesting because you get to see the performers do their own thing, but the landmarks of the choreography which become visible seem underwhelming – what is important about that specific shape of the arms, or the choice of that expression, or the timing of that sound? Surely if the performers had a less visible and therefore more open score, the results would be much more varied and more interesting? Not that there needs to be variety for there to be interest, but if mass production is key to the solo’s existence then there must be things that Hay finds of interest within the actual content of her choreography, and these don’t seem to translate to the audience. For me the excitement is held entirely in the performance and, reflecting on the four versions of this solo that I have seen, I wonder if the performers actually need Hay’s choreography for that excitement to still be there. I think the choreography (or score – the two words are interchangeable with this work) has the potential to be a restricting force as well as an enabling one. But what do I know?