Time Spent with a Demigod

"Saw Deborah Hay last night. I enjoyed it but I'm a little confused. Literally every choreographer/dancer I know speaks of her as if speaking of a demigod. I thought it was kind of interesting and thought she was amazingly precise and imaginative but...I don't understand, really, what all the fuss was about."


A friend sent me this email last week, after attending “No Time to Fly,” Hay’s first solo in six years.

Part of Danspace Project’s excellent “Back to New York City” series, curated by the choreographer Juliette Mapp, it does indeed show Hay to be in rarified demigod air; had a meteorite fallen on St. Mark’s Church Saturday night, when I attended, the contemporary dance world would be in need of radical restocking measures.

So, is all the fuss warranted? For me, yes. Hay, an alumna of the 1960s Judson Dance Theater collective, which helped to redefine our understanding of dance, is a singular presence in the arts. Watching her 50-minute solo, which was lit with shimmering subtlety by Jennifer Tipton, I was transfixed by Hay’s moment-to-moment concentration as she moved through various physical and imaginative states. Staying with her through the shifts in consciousness that underlie her own movement practice felt like a form of practice in itself: how to live an aware life. Hay, whose periodic vocalizations served as a sort of sound score (like her movements, these were sometimes tender and sad, sometimes earthy and silly), sticks to a wonderfully unadorned physical language. A delicate but decisive sideways step here, the almost invisible curve of a planed arm and tilted chin there. Everything seems essentialized, and Hay is so wonderfully, ridiculously present at every turn.

To put it another way, there seems no membrane between her art and her life. It was an honor to spend time with such a fully realized human being; better than being with a demigod, if you ask me.