Joe Moran

Research: Participation in the 2009 Solo Performance Commissioning Projects with Deborah Hay

Commission: August – September 2009. Daily practice: September – December 2009

How the grant was spent

The £500 award granted from the Rebecca Skelton Fund was spent on my participation in the 2009 Deborah Hay Solo Performance Commissioning Project (SPCP). The SPCP is a unique project conceived to encourage communities to support artists and their growth: an international group of professional dance artists are selected to ‘commission’ the same solo dance, in this instance At Once, choreographed by iconoclastic American choreographer Deborah Hay. Participating artists are not permitted to pay the £980 commission fee from their personal resources, but rather involve their communities (relatives, friends, businesses, and local, regional or national funding organisations) by inviting their financial support. Upon completion of the initial commission period with Hay, artists are invited to sign a contract with the Deborah Hay Dance Company in which it is agreed that they will undertake intensive daily practice of the solo for a minimum period of three months before presenting the work publically. Performances are then credited as: At Once, choreographed by Deborah Hay, adapted and performed by the individual artist.

The Fund’s award of £500 provided over 50% of my commission fee, which was augmented by donations from individuals. The Fund and all those who supported the commission fee of each of the 21 participating artists (in 2009) are listed on a single, comprehensive ‘patrons list’. The list is published every time At Once is performed anywhere in the world by any of the participating artists, including Hay.

I participated in the SPCP, administered by Independent Dance and Bodysurf Scotland, at the Findhorn Retreat Centre in Scotland, 26th August – 4th September 2009.

Research and outcomes

Working with Deborah Hay has had a considerable influence on my work as a performer and choreographer. The project offered the culmination to a period of in-depth engagement with the practice of other dance artists, which I initiated in 2008 when working with Siobhan Davies and continued with further intensive study with Rosemary Butcher.

Working with Deborah Hay offered an exceptionally helpful insight into the experience of developing performance presence in dance that is vital, alive and intelligent. The processes that she employs serve to jolt the experienced performer out of habitual tendencies. I experience that this engenders performance with a complex set of qualities: humour and wit, articulation of the embodied intelligence of dance and a distinct sense of critical inquiry – that dance as an art form can ask questions and make new propositions.

Hay emphasises the significance of physical experience and the potential of understanding and intelligence elucidated through the moving body. These principles are nurtured and embedded through the daily practice that artists are required to commit to in order to perform her work. I have found this aspect of the project to be highly significant in integrating the insights and new skills I gained. Since completing the commission and the minimum three-month daily practice (in December 2009), I have noticed that my practice, not only as a performer but also as a choreographer, has changed irrevocably. I approach working with dancers in a different way and have learnt a new ways of seeing and coaching my performers that leads me to realise performance outcomes that are hard to pin down.

Beyond my work in the studio, working with Deborah Hay has been important professionally, in terms of new engagements and wider interest in my work. I have received invitations to present the Deborah Hay solo in a number of festivals in UK, alongside teaching appointments in Greece and Canada and as a lecture-performance in Poland. I have also received a number of expressions of interest in the work, including one from South America, which are currently being pursued.

I would like to express my tremendous gratitude to the Rebecca Skelton Fund and its Steering Committee for this generous support and acknowledge the considerable influence that this research has brought to bear upon my work. I am delighted to be able to accompany this report with images of my adaptation of At Once by photographer David Edwards and the final At Once patrons’ list, which notes the Fund’s kind support.

Joe Moran, February 2010