Deborah Hay & Guests - The Match
It’s funny that modern choreographers - especially those veering towards the avant garde - are seen as such a serious bunch. Because in reality there’s often no-one better schooled in the absurd. Deborah Hay, veteran of the Judson Dance Theatre, is a perfect example. Her Bessie Award-winning piece The Match opens with one dancer (Wally Cardona) taking a five-minute jog around the stage. The house lights are still up. There’s no music. There may as well be a flashing sign above his head: ‘Danger, experimental art in progress!’
But after a few moments to re-tune into his station, Cardona’s antics turn out to be very amusing indeed. He plays inventively with his pedestrian material, finding infinite variations with his shuffling feet and comical expressions, and the bewildered silence is soon broken by appreciative giggles.
Cardona is joined by three more dancers, Mark Lorimer, Chrysa Parkinson and Ros Warby, who add their own oddball physiques to the frame. Accompanied only by their own incomprehensible mumbles and sighs, the quartet drift after each other in a string of seemingly half-remembered moves, travelling messily en masse. There are glimpses of familiar steps and styles - as they morph into a cool jazz troupe, for example - but it is always as if seen through some distorting mirror.
The feeling of being lost in someone else’s imagination continues as the dancers take turns centre stage, where Ros Warby produces memorable moments. Speaking in stagey whispers or singsong little girl tones that suit her tiny frame, she makes mirth out of something as incidental as the shape of her shoe. Chrysa Parkinson uses the sounds coming out of her mouth to propel her body, from the sharp blasts of a firing range to the air escaping from a deflated balloon.
Hay’s dances don’t really want to be explained; they want to be experienced. They don’t so much illustrate things we know as things we have never seen. They make complex mimes of objects and situations that have not existed until this moment, when a dancer’s body carved them out on the stage in front of us.
The second half of the programme does offer some insight into the group’s process, however, when Hay herself and Lorimer each perform a solo adaptation of the quartet. They begin with the same material but find themselves on wildly different tangents.
Hay, dressed like Pierrot, scrolls through a plethora of facades, voices, and sporting references, plus a chant here, a flamenco pose there and numerous unfathomable things in between. One moment she is introverted, muttering to herself, the next confrontational as she addresses the audience, sizing up the opposition. But her improvisatory attitude masks a very precise performer underneath.
In his solo, Lorimer is more of a clown - although he’s not wearing the Pierrot costume, opting for thermal long johns instead. He again starts with the jogging motif, finding squeaky boards on the stage and treading them over again and again. Silly noises are his forte. And he deftly manoeuvres round his selection of multiple personalities, milking the audience’s reaction as he goes.
There are plenty of imaginative and enjoyable moments here, but the problem is that Hay’s work is surely intended to be much more than just comedy. It is a fascinating exploration for its performers, and a unique experience for an audience on the same wavelength, but between tonight’s sporadic moments of brilliance there seems to lie a lot of white noise.