Issues of identity, mastery of nuance and satirical broadsides at the dance world linked the solo programs by Deborah Hay and Susan Foster over the weekend at Highways.
One of the founding members of the Judson Dance Theater in the 1960s, Hay brought to "The Man Who Grew Common in Wisdom" a unique transparency of perception on Friday. As she danced three character studies, she incorporated her own intimate, nonverbal responses as running commentary--letting thoughts and feelings flicker across her face until the dance emerged as a complex layering of action and reaction.
In "The Navigator," she became a kind of seer, exploring space and her own potential before directing her focus way, way out and up. For "The Gardener," she changed from a loose, white Pierrot-like costume to an abstraction of overalls, dancing a fast and often witty celebration of physical labor.
Finally, "The Aviator" showed Hay in the role of entertainer, wearing a decorated suit with detached cuffs and a smile as empty as the audience-courting virtuosity and glamour being parodied. Music by Ellen Fullman established contexts for each character: a drone for the visionary, rhythmic percussion for the worker, amplified bubbles and other special effects for the glitz queen.
Foster also portrayed similar roles during a four-part Saturday program that continually made her skills as dancer/choreographer secondary to those of writer and actress.
"Blurred Genres" showed her ability to shift focus from face to hands to feet, creating clever character sketches from isolated physical motifs. However, this approach became a liability in two deeply ambitious works depicting emotional crises.
Shaped by Foster's eloquent texts, both "Tabula Rasa" and "Spitting Image" depicted the burden of dance-making: the ephemeral nature of dance itself and the cost over a lifetime of an artist's dedication to it. Both works also relied on Foster's ability to suddenly, unexpectedly seem in the deepest pain, her face and hands ravaged by torment.
However, Foster never actually danced with feeling, never transferred emotion from that face, that voice or those fingers into her torso, or made a persuasive whole-body statement. The mock-didactic "Tabula Rasa" still had brilliant structural ploys and the pseudo-autobiographical "Spitting Image" a sensational blend of humor and narrative force. But dance served merely as counterpoint to the major moments of these works.
With minimal acting and no text, "Message Urgent" (a work-in-progress) assembled pop-dance cliches in phrases exposing their inanity. Foster performed strongly, but the piece hadn't yet become more than a file of references.