HouseHsCarol Anderson: Welcome. Thank you all for coming out on yet another snowy night in Toronto. This is the first Choreographic Dialogues winter session, and I'd like to say thank you to Christopher House for making this happen at the studios of Toronto Dance Theatre. I'd also like to thank William Yong, who Christopher informs me has given up his rehearsal space tonight. And thanks to Selma Odom whose idea it was to see if this discussion with Deborah Hay and Christopher House could happen.

Christopher, the celebrated choreographer and artistic director of Toronto Dance Theatre, needs no introduction. I'm going to read a brief introduction of Deborah Hay, for anyone who doesn't know her, to provide a bit more background before we start our discussion – it's information from her company website.

“In the early 1960s Deborah Hay trained with Mia Slavenska and Merce Cunningham. In 1964 she participated in an international tour with the Cunningham Dance Company. She then joined the Judson Dance Theater as a performer and choreographer …”

HayNoTimeToFlyDeborah Hay: No, no, no. Judson was started in 1960/61, so that's always wrong (laughter). I was working at Judson along with a lot of the dancers who were also studying with Merce Cunningham. Judson was parallel to the experience with Merce, but certainly really building on the experience of dancing with Merce. It's so much work to keep up with one's history …

CA: Thank you! … Along with her collaborators she attempted to blur the line traditionally separating trained and untrained dancers. In 1970, she left New York to live in a community in Vermont. During this period her works were no longer presented to the public but designed only for those performing. The observations she made during annual group workshops were distilled into solo projects, now Hay's preferred form of choreography. In 2000, she nevertheless choreographed a duet for herself and Mikhail Baryshnikov, which toured with the Past Forward Project, a series of performances updating the scores of the Judson Group Theater, among others. From time to time Hay also creates new group choreographies including O, O in 2006, based on the reinterpretation of her solo dances by several different performers.

DH: Well, that's not correct. In 1998 I decided I would work only with experienced performers. I spent 40 years working with trained and untrained dancers. Working with untrained performers was fantastic. I took what I learned working with them, and that's what I now use when I'm working with trained performers.

Baryshnikov asked me to be part of the Past Forward Project in 2001; so I choreographed a piece for the two of us, and I choreographed a piece for his company and I also made a community piece that was performed on that same program. Then I was going to quit the field. The project with Misha I thought might change my life. It didn't, and so I was going to quit. I wrote a letter of resignation to the field of dancing. “Look I have done this for so many years I can't do it any more. It is a thankless way to survive.” Actually what I was saying to Christopher yesterday, what I felt, utterly, was underutilized as a human being and this was the reason I was going to quit the field. Trying to survive as an experimental choreographer was … I was going to quit. But I had one more project I wanted to do, which was to choreograph a piece with a stellar cast of dancers who were also choreographers. One of them was Ros Warby who is a dancer/choreographer from Melbourne, Australia. One of them was Wally Cardona, a dancer from New York, another was Mark Lorimer who's a dancer/choreographer from Brussels, and Chrysa Parkinson, an American choreographer who also lives in Brussels. I choreographed a quartet called The Match, and it was performed at Dance Space [New York City] in 2004. My life literally changed at that moment. What audiences were able to see in my work – that they were not able to see in working with untrained performers or watching me as a solo performer – was that they were able to see choreography. Looking at untrained performers you see humanity, you see beauty, you see so much depth, so much poetry, but when you look at the experienced performer, the dancer who has an understanding of time and space, you can breed the choreography. There's space for choreography. Since then, I am calling myself successful.

CA: Christopher, I wonder if you would speak about how you found Deborah, and how the arc of your choreographic life and dancing life brought you to investigate the work she was doing.
 

Christopher House: In January of 2006 I was in New York City for a couple of weeks, thanks to the Metcalf Foundation. I was taking classes and attending performances and I ran into Elizabeth Zimmer, who a lot of people in Toronto will know. She's a writer and she suggested that I would love a performance at St. Mark's Church called O, O, which was choreographed by Deborah Hay. So I went to the performance – I was at the opening. I've been a choreographer for 30 years and I've watched a lot of dance over that period of time and I've thought about dance, I've analysed a lot of aspects of people's choreography. I watched Deborah's work and was very surprised by what I was seeing; I felt very strongly that I was seeing a world whose poetic logic was actually clear, but I had no idea how these effects had been achieved. I was completely absorbed by the performance and I couldn't understand what process was at work that was affecting me at many different levels. So I thought I'd find out how she made it up. I really wanted to know what was inside this device. Deborah was at the performance looking very glamorous … I approached her, very cautiously because she was surrounded by admirers, and she was very gracious. I asked her if she ever taught workshops and she told me about the Solo Performance Commission in Findhorn. I signed up in time to get a spot and went to Findhorn and learned a solo piece called News which, after it had been rehearsed, practised, worked on for about three months, was performed here in December 2006. The following year I invited Deborah to come and work with the company because I felt that what I had learned, what had changed me through the experience was something I needed to share with the company dancers. In fact, when I worked on Chiasmata, I think I was already very concerned with the things that I learned from the practice of News. We started talking about aspects of how we saw – but I didn't really have the language to go deep enough into that, so I went back to Findhorn again this summer.

CA: To extend that a little, would you talk about your experience of learning and dancing, from the dancer part of you.

CH: I think we all have a sense of ourselves as dancers – I loved moving very quickly, and I loved jumping and turning and playing with musicality. I got older and busier as the director of a company (who has less and less time to invest into sustaining that dancer) and of course once you hit 50, chemically your body is changing, so no matter how you perceive yourself, your dancing becomes very different. In some ways I lost interest in performance. I couldn't really imagine who I would be in the context of being onstage. The last piece that I performed was my own piece called Nest, but I was more of an observer, or an outsider; in fact we're going to do Nest again next year and I'm very curious to see how I'll feel about being in it. I was never so attached to performing that I thought “If I can't dance, who am I?” It just fell off the table, and I didn't think of it. It was me as a choreographer that came back to performing, and was completely ambushed by the experience; and now I am really interested in doing lots more performance.

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Christopher House & Deborah Hay
Winchester Street Theatre, January 19,
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