How do I recognize my choreography?

The Solo Performance Commissioning Project began in 1998 at the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, in the town of Langley, WA. It took place for ten days annually for five summers before it was relocated to the Findhorn Foundation Community in Scotland in 2004 where it has since been administered by Gill Clarke and staff from Independent Dance in London and by Karl Jay-Lewin of Bodysurf Scotland, at Findhorn.

Of the eight SPCPs that have taken place, about 140 solo adaptations have been realized. I have been an audience member at only a few public performances. It is at these public showings, however, that I am coming to learn what

Choreography: Deborah Hay
Adaptation and Performance: [example: Lindsay Doe]

means. This is how the credits appear when an adaptation is being performed.

What I mean by my choreography includes the transmission from me to the dancer, of the same set of questions I ask myself when I am performing a particular movement sequence that ministers shape to a dance. I will not talk about my movement choices here, except to say that as an aspect of my choreography they fall almost exclusively into three categories: 1) impossible to realize, 2) embarrassing to “do”, or, idiotic to contemplate, 3) maddeningly simple. These movement directions are not unlike my questions that are 1) unanswerable, 2) impossible to truly comprehend, and, at the same time, 3) poignantly immediate.

History choreographs all of us, including dancers. The choreographed body dominates most dancing, for better or for worse. The questions that guide me through a dance are like the tools one would use for renovating an already existing house. Like a screwdriver being turned counter-clockwise, or a crow bar prying boards free from a wall, the dancer applies the questions to re-choreograph his/her perceived relationship to him/herself, the audience, space, time, and the instantaneous awareness of any of these combined experiences. The questions help uproot behavior that gathers experimentally and/or experientially.

When I see a singularly coherent choreographed body, performing a solo adaptation, I know that the dancer is not choosing to exercise the re-measuring tools needed to counter-choreograph the predominance of learned behavior. I use the words “choosing to exercise” because most of us know exactly what is required when we choose to train the physical body to adapt to a choreographer’s aesthetics. Training oneself in a questioning process that counter-choreographs the learned body requires similar devotion and constancy.

Every dancer who learns one of my solo dances, signs a contract, committing to a minimum three months of practice before the first public performance of his/her solo adaptation. Three months is not an estimate. It is based on my experience with new material. In order to recognize all the ways I hold onto ideas, images, suppositions, beliefs, the ways my body attaches to what I think the material ‘is’, or should feel like, or look, I need to be alone in a studio, noticing the infinitely momentary feedback that arises from my daily performance of a reliable sequence of movement directions, influenced by the immediacy arising from the same questions day after day after day.

I recognize my choreography when I see a dancer’s self-regulated transcendence of his/her choreographed body within in a movement sequence that distinguishes one dance from another.

Deborah Hay, 2007