PRINT September 2018

Deborah Hay

WHEN CHOREOGRAPHER and teacher Robert Dunn proposed an assignment to the dancers who became the Judson Dance Theater (of which I was one)—and because all I knew at the time was how to be a good student—I dutifully completed it, whereas I never understood how Yvonne Rainer’s or Steve Paxton’s responses had anything at all to do with Dunn’s assignment. They were more interested in breaking or challenging instructions and direction, and perhaps, more importantly, they were exploring their own aesthetics. I did not know aesthetics from a hole in the head.

Yvonne’s dances were very different from one another, yet colored by a distinctly playful authority. I especially remember Three Seascapes (1962) because of its shock value, and We Shall Run (1963) because of its Olympian opening: many people running en masse to an operatic music score . . . maybe something by Berlioz?

I was mostly always stupefied and captivated by Steve’s work. It was boring, tedious, and enigmatic, and the complete absence of clues of how to even think about it was unlike any art experience I had up until then.

I loved Carolee Schneemann’s work because it broke away from our social and cultural norms at the time. Being in Carolee’s pieces meant you personally got to touch and be touched by others. This did not happen in anyone else’s dances.

There was, from my perspective, a point at which Lucinda Childs’s solo dances turned magical because of her severe and heightened performance persona, and because of the ordinary and ill-matched combination of materials with which she choreographed her interactions.

Alex Hay’s tightly knit creations set up funny and serious stunt-like conditions for the frustrating or art-like tasks he had to fulfill as a performer.

Robert Rauschenberg’s pictorial dances were productions of impossibly concrete imaginings. As a nondancer, he had a particular presence in his pieces that made a strong impression on me.

I remember the inclusion of rule games by a few choreographers in some early performances that did not do much for me.

Deborah Hay is a choreographer, performer, writer, and director. In May 2015, she was awarded the title of Chevalier De L’ordre des arts et des Lettres by the government of France.