An intimate presentation of seminal Judson Church dance artist Deborah Hay, discussing and performing her work. The documentary also presents her unique process of embodied inquiry and her continued engagement in dance as a means of exploring consciousness and of posing unanswerable questions.
Deborah Hay was born in Brooklyn. Her mother was her first dance teacher, and directed her training until she was a teenager. She moved to Manhattan in the 1960s, where she continued her training with Merce Cunningham and Mia Slavenska. In 1964, Hay danced with the Cunningham Dance Company during a 6-month tour through Europe and Asia.
Hay was a member of a group of experimental artists that was deeply influenced by Merce Cunningham and John Cage. The group, later known as the Judson Dance Theater, became one of the most radical and explosive 20th century art movements.By 1967, Hay had already achieved a prominent status as a young choreographer, and her unique style began to emerge as a distinct voice within the aesthetics of Judson. Sharing with her colleagues the ideas that dance engage with other art forms, and that the artificial distinction between trained and untrained performers be challenged, she focused on large-scale dance projects involving untrained dancers, fragmented and choreographed music accompaniment, and the execution of ordinary movement patterns performed under stressful conditions.
In 1970 she left New York to live in a community in northern Vermont. Soon, she distanced herself from the performing arena, producing Ten Circle Dances, performed on 10 consecutive nights within a single community and no audience whatsoever. Thus began a long period of reflection about how dance is transmitted and presented. Her first book, Moving Through the Universe in Bare Feet (Swallow Press, 1975), is an early example of her distinctive memory/concept mode of choreographic record, and emphasizes the narratives underlining the process of her dance-making, rather than the technical specifications or notations of their form.
In 1976 Hay left Vermont and moved to Austin, Texas. Her attention focused on a set of practices ("playing awake") that engaged the performer on several levels of consciousness at once. While developing her concepts over the course of 15 years, she instituted a yearly four-month group workshop that culminated in large group public performances and from these group pieces she distilled her solo dances. Her second book, Lamb at the Altar: The Story of a Dance (Duke University Press, 1994), documents the unique creative process that defined these works.
In the late 1990’s Deborah Hay focused almost exclusively on rarified and enigmatic solo dances based on her new experimental choreographic method, such as The Man Who Grew Common in Wisdom, Voilà, The Other Side of O, Fire, Boom Boom Boom, Music, Beauty, The Ridge, Room, performing them around the world and passing them on to noted performers in the US, Europe, and Australia. She also choreographed a duet for herself and Mikhail Baryshnikov, Single Duet, which toured with the Past/Forward project in 2000.
Her third book, My Body, The Buddhist (Wesleyan University Press, 2000) is an introspective series of reflections on the major lessons of life that she has learned from her body while dancing.
Hay’s work is now at a stage where she redefines the inimitable choreographic method of her solo pieces in collaboration with highly trained dancers. In 2004 she received a NYC Bessie award for her choreography of the quartet The Match. In 2006 she choreographed “O, O” for 5 New York City choreographer/dancers and then for 7 French dancers of comparable experience. The Festival d’Automne, in Paris, presented The Match in 2005, “O, O” in 2006, and If I Sing To You, in 2008, which was commissioned by The Forsythe Company and which toured extensively in Europe and Australia. On January 29, 2009 The Toronto Dance Theatre premiered her work, Up Until Now. Her latest solo, No Time To Fly premiered at Danspace, NYC, March 25- 27, 2010.
In 2007 Hay received a BAXten Award. “Your experimental work has remained alive & contemporary over four decades, inspiring your colleagues and peers and now - new generations of choreographers & performers. Your sustained commitment and your willingness to change course provides an example for others. Your articulate writing on the body & dance has had a profound impact on the field.”
In October 2009 Deborah received an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Dance from the Theater Academy in Helsinki, Finland and in 2010 she was awarded an US Artist Friends Fellowship and a 2011 artist’s grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, based in New York.
Ellen Bromberg is a filmmaker, media designer, curator, and educator. A former dancer and choreographer with Utah’s Repertory Dance Theater, she has received numerous awards for her work including a Guggenheim Fellowship, three Bay Area Isadora Duncan Dance Awards, a Bonnie Bird American Choreographer Award, grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Arizona Commission on the Arts, the George Soros Foundation, among others. She has also been honored with a Pew National Dance/Media Fellowship, a UC Berkeley Townsend Humanities Fellowship, and two UC Davis Granada Artist-in-Residence Awards. Ellen’s screen works have been presented on public television stations, on online channels, and at a variety of national and international dance film festivals including Lincoln Center’s Dance on Camera Festival, Cinedans Amsterdam, VideoDanza, Buenos Aires, Dance Camera West, Los Angeles, to name a few. Recent work focuses on the integration of media in performance and she has designed video for stage and installations in her own work and in collaboration with other choreographers. A professor at the University of Utah, Ellen is the founding director of the International Dance for the Camera Festival, which began in 1999. She has also designed the first Graduate Certificate in Screendance, in collaboration with the Department of Film and Media Arts.