|Field||Performance art, Choreography, Dancing|
Deborah Hay is an experimental choreographer working in the field of postmodern dance.
Life and work
Deborah Hay was born in 1941 in Brooklyn. Her mother was her first dance teacher and directed her training until she was a teenager. Hay moved at age 19 to Downtown, 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 artists that was deeply influenced by the work of Merce Cunningham and John Cage. The group, later known as the Judson Dance Theater, became one of the most radical and explosive postmodern 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 10 “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 1990s 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 North Door" and "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 has now reached a new 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", which toured in Austin, Houston, London, Nottingham, Montpellier, and Paris in 2005.
Deborah Hay has collaborated with many artists from different areas, such as composers Pauline Oliveros, Alvin Lucier, Richard Landry, Terry Riley, Ellen Fullman, artist Tina Girouard, and Australian actor/playwright/director Margaret Cameron, among others. She has been the recipient of several grants and fellowships, including a 1983 Guggenheim Fellowship in choreography, numerous National Endowment for the Arts Choreography Fellowships, and the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Fellowship in 1996.
Deborah Hay has received many awards and honors. In 2007 she received a BAXten Award. The award was presented with the following words: “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 the Theater Academy in Helsinki, Finland, will confer on Deborah Hay an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Dance at the Doctoral Degrees Graduation Ceremony.