It’s not surprising that Deborah Hay’s Room feels as if it instilled with ritual. Especially when considering that dancers Tahni Holt and Linda Austin committed to a daily practice of the dance for a year.
Although, the performance is two adaptations of the same dance, they work well as a continuous piece, tied together with a red chord.
The red chord (or ribbon) is one of several checkpoints within the choreography- others being light changes, snippets of songs sung, a low bow. These moments offer a certain amount of continuity between the two distinct representations of each dancers flavor and approach to Deborah Hay’s battered choreography. The ribbon, the song, the choking on ones own words are also semi-lucid points where the audience is able to enter the sharpness of Room.
There is a sense when entering Room, or Rooms as the case may be, that what we are viewing is a kind of possession. The dancers’ bodies appear to be struggling with a force that seeks to burst out from inside of them. They seem overcome by language and a certain violence. The bizarre and awkward babble that bubbles from the dancers’ lips may have caused the audience to giggle, but I suspect it was from nervousness more than pleasure.
What immediately came to me, as my mind attempted to place the dance within a narrative structure, were images of voodoo practitioners becoming possessed by spirits and losing themselves to another persona. Here the spirit of possession is Deborah Hay’s choreography: It is jagged and teetering and broken and not content to be quiet. I wonder if the possessed is ever troubled by the possibility that the true self won’t come back?
Because it is not necessarily graceful and because it certainly challenges the known dance vocabulary, Room is difficult to unlock. However, the energy and depth of practice in this ritualized dance makes it an intriguing space to enter. At least for a while.
posted by P.A. Coleman