Deborah Hay's "Mountain" <font size=2>by Brangien Davis</font> Apr 20, 2007
In the program notes for Deborah Hay’s “Mountain, ” the choreographer is quoted as saying, “It is easy to imagine a mountain teeming with life. How is it that we look for shape in the dancing body and forget to imagine it is teeming with life? ” I read this just before the lights went down and took it as a directive: look for signs of teeming life.
I had already learned that these might be nearly imperceptible to the naked eye, thanks to Hay’s clever trick of having the stage curtain opening evvvvvvvver so slowly (wait--was it open that wide before? when did it move?) as people took their seats and murmurmurmurmurmured.
The opening moments of the piece, however, leave nothing in question: life teems all over the place. The three immensely talented dancers (Gaelen Hanson, Amelia Reeber, and Peggy Piacenza) whirl, breeze, and flap across the stage, all wearing white puffs of cloud-like cotton on their heads, and all playing toy instruments (finger cymbals, rattles, and a tiny tambourine). Crafting their own improvised score, they mutter bits of bird-like nonsense. Though they act largely unaware of each other, their movement and music is clearly of a common mission.
The piece is also teeming with humor, especially in the expressive faces of the dancers as they gather at the edge of the stage and move like deliciously hesitant, out-of-sync back-up singers who give up after growling what sounds like, “Grapple. ” Also very funny: the segment in which Reeber portrays a vengeful man, bent on violence, all crotch thrusts and cartoony snarls. (Who knew moccasins, tube socks, gauchos, and a tank top would be the perfect get-up to represent an angry young man?)
Piacenza is perhaps the most natural comedian in the group ”¦ it seems as if she can’t help it. Her body simply wants to be funny--no matter that her mind might be telling it to straighten up and be serious. Her shoulders insist on hiking up into an Ed Grimley hunch. Her mouth demands to spring open even when there’s no sound in her throat. Her knees require that they bang into the tambourine.
In the post-intermission solos, we are allowed in closer to the dancers’ endearing personalities ”¦ Piacenza beating a toy drum worn as a hat, Reeber struggling with the faux elegance of a glam dress and feisty tiara, and Hanson as a sort of beat-box Heidi (complete with two endless braids and a dirndl), who moves through a sweet, posed confusion reminiscent of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, and emerges as “The Birth of Venus ” (were Venus born at the Transfer Station). Exposed, her skin teems with direct questions. It’s lovely.