Thursday, April 3, 2014

Who's Afraid of Deborah Hay? I Might Be

Shannon Stewart (l) and Mary Margaret Moore
photo by Jeff Huston
Why do humans create? Given the archaeological and historical evidence, we've been dancing, singing, painting and making theater for centuries.

Some folks speculate art was, and continues to be, a form of worship. Others call it a response to current events. The last time I wrote about this subject, one reader commented that he was simply driven to make things, that it wasn't in response to anything particular. Art, the great mystery.

"Why Create?" was a question Seattle choreographer Shannon Stewart asked herself. At a recent rehearsal for this weekend's "Who's Afraid of Deborah Hay?", Stewart told me she turned to Hay's work to make sense of her own creative impulses. Hay makes dances, but apparently she's developed an introspective practice that requires performers not only to learn those dances, but to prepare themselves psychically to perform them.
photo by Jeff Huston

I watched Stewart and her collaborator Mary Margaret Moore run through two separate solos. The dances were sparse, almost enigmatic, a blend of quotidian motions, quiet, almost yogic poses, and what I think of as, for lack of a better term, "dancerly" movements. (Hey, I've heard visual artists described as "painterly," so why not "dancerly"?)

For those of you who, like me, aren't too familiar with Deborah Hay: she came of age in New York in the 1960's. Hay danced for a time with Merce Cunningham's company. She left (according to Stewart and Moore, Cunningham's choreography "terrorized her") to join with a group of like-minded, experimental artists who later came to be known as the Judson Group.
Mary Margaret Moore (l) and Shannon Stewart
photo by Jeff Huston

I was curious why Moore and Stewart chose to devote so much time and energy to Hay's practice and dances. Stewart told me that she has been a dancer almost her entire life, but she's never been able to connect that dance life to her other passion:  political/community activism. Presumably, working with Deborah Hay has helped her to bridge those worlds.
Shannon Stewart and Mary Margaret Moore
photo by Jeff Huston

You can check out "Who's Afraid of Deborah Hay?" this weekend (April 5-6) in Seattle at Washington Hall, and April 18-19 at Conduit Dance in Portland.

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