TQW Magazin
Imani Rameses in conversation with Deborah Hay about Animals on the Beach & my choreographed body … revisited

Every Second, Every Cell


Every Second, Every Cell

On. The white cube is promptly met with the faint taps of commencement: Deborah Hay.

Right away, my perceptions are delayed in a falsehood, for her movement had already left and returned in preparations to leave again. Using her toes to recall her hips, I hurry in an optical sprint to catch up – trailing behind with my presumptions that we are in a story or on a journey – narratively naive. After 50 years of practice – working with Merce Cunningham and founding a legacy with the Judson Dance Theater and later with her dance company in Austin, Texas – Hay knows that knowing gets you nowhere. Instead, Hay offers volume within the ephemeral. Beginning her solo, my choreographed body…revisited, Hay doesn’t hesitate to immediately invite her audience to notice the contradictions of the verb seeing our assumptions that there is something one must do in order for something to be seen. Hay’s entrance was an actualization of what she had earlier described during our interview:


Imani Rameses: Where are you today/Where are you finding yourself today?

Deborah Hay: Where I am today has to do with recognizing, really being able to see my work evolve and the importance of that for me. And to get glimpses of an evolution of where I am today, as an artist, as a choreographer and performer – for me, for me my interests are to be able to read dance as music, and I don’t mean “music”. I mean that it [dance] stands on its own, that it doesn’t need narrative, it doesn’t need anything more than just what it is…


The instant Hay meets the white canvas, a “we” is earthed. Together, Hay and her audience, in this instant, and this instant, and this one as well – no one has to be left behind. Still, I am left in a doubtful frenzy. An unprecedented existence: the feeling is incomprehensible, everything is everything else, and it’s all happening continuously. This scale of unerring vulnerability is terrifying. Hay mutters, interrupting my silent panic with an indiscernible hymn while lying on her back with her forearms propping her up as she gazes down at her powdered pink shoes…I giggle. I gather my experience to be what Hay was referring to when we spoke:

R: You talk about your theory of “Continuity of Continuity, Discontinuity of Continuity, Continuity of Discontinuity” which my brain is still wrapping and wrapping around…

H: You understand the “Continuity of Continuity”[1]…?

R: Yes, especially as a dancer with ballet training…

H: Yes, okay, and then the “Discontinuity of Continuity” is when you start exploring on your own, making choices, you cut, and you contradict the continuity. But then you get to a place of the “Continuity of Discontinuity” [grins] – that’s noticing the cellular body[2]. The continuity of noticing the potential for the cellular body to engage and so on. The actual experience is so freeing. But it’s not improvisation, it isn’t…it’s like…it just…IT JUST IS! [we laugh, together]. I think it’s about innocence, really to be momentary. When I am practicing being supported by this universe…that was my last really big aha: when I use the word “universe”, I cannot identify it and that’s so brilliant to me! I can’t identify it, and that’s why I turn my f´`*king head[3] because I get attached to a way of seeing me being supported by the universe and I turn my f´`*king head and it just…refreshes me.[4]


Hay does not choreograph unidirectionally, permitting the audience to simply take and take and take from the performer, rather, we each have an assignment. With grit and with grace, Hay puts her audience to work: sitting in a state of alert inactivity, I scoot to the edge of my seat. I notice my front teeth nibbling at my pen, and with a flutter of blinks I place my pen back into my notebook – I’m working. Interrupting (my)self requires work. While enraptured in the experience of the meta-phenomenon of noticing my noticing, Hay had left. Yet, I remained on stage, with my newly choreographed body, actively in recognition of its conditioning.

Yes, we were left with a few lines of a nonsensical song, as the dancers, wearing stark black costumes, synchronized their entrance with a hushed toe, ball, heel to begin Animals on the Beach. Immediately, my eyes scurried to decipher a score and were met with immediate failure: like Hay, the dancers were leaving a movement pattern within the same moment it arrived. This is the “flow” that Hay had spoken of:

R: You once said [in an interview with Zodiak and the Helsinki Festival], “I recognize my choreography when I see the dancers’ self-regulated transcendence of the ways in which he or she has been choreographed by living on this earth.” How do you recognize this? Could you give an example of how you discern such experiences for the context of Animals on the Beach?

H: I see them not moving out of habit. I see them not moving by choice – out of flow. By not moving by choice, with flow. Sometimes there is flow. But I see they’re always on top of noticing where they are, so that they are thrilled again by what’s possible.

R: Sort of like a reincarnation every second…

H: Yes. I can see that really clearly. I can see when habit or patterns or a behavior kicks in. And to a certain extent it’s always there, but I can see the choice to not be there more continuously. As long as they’re noticing it, it’s fine. As long as one notices it, one can turn it into something else, without doing anything differently, just [noticing] how they are perceiving it [the movement] or how they are attending to it.


Lingering between the in- and exhale of every(no)thing, I surrender to the nonfiction. Each dancer prancing through their individual encyclopedias, careful to remain between contexts of expression – who do the dancers need to be? No one. What do the dancers need to do? Nothing. Nothing that I can perceive – they move with subatomic choices. Each movement dying within its own epithet, but did we notice? Oh. A pause, as they each rest their fingers on the right corner of the bottom lip. I, too, wonder why it feels so unbearable to be? Oh, how my habits have turned me into something “real”. I know it. You know it. We’re required to know. But Hay is not interested in what we think we know:

R: You have a quote from your book, “my body, the buddhist”[5], that says, “I imagine every cell in my body has the potential to perceive wisdom in every moment while remaining positionless about what wisdom is or what it looks like.” In my current exploration of the phenomenon of the self, I have such a hard time remaining positionless. So I wanted to ask you: how are you remaining positionless during the negotiation of whether your perspective is your “youest” you?

H: Because, there is no “youest” you. It’s every cell in the body. I’m free of the “youest” you. And I can’t do it! It’s all impossible. The reason I can continue working is because I don’t have a Deborah Hay who is your “youest” you. I have a cellular body. I’m playing out the potential of my cellular body. And that frees me from a “youest” you.


Inclined and held by the dimming of consecrated lights, the body of the last dancer on stage whispered an ending. Applauding, my hands announced their presence with each meeting and departure – I was seeing. No climactic resolve, no characters. Rather, I remained in an empathic engagement with myself, continuously bound and unbound to my every relation: my body, the seat, the floor, the dance colleague to the left of me, my fellow audience, the Tanzquartier Wien theater, Vienna, Europe, the earth, air, gravity, space, the solar system, the universe…Was this how I should be feeling – a feeling of everything at once? I imagine these to be questions Hay would explore using a cellular consciousness – an impossible pursuit: Deborah Hay’s life-long specialty.


[1] “A continuity of continuity is how those of us who are lucky enough begin life. We are hungry, we are fed. We are thirsty and we drink. We need to be held and are lifted into our mother’s arms. We want to dance and we have Fred and Ginger, or hip-hop, or B Boys for influence. Or we have ballet. If we want to dance differently, we have modern dance teachers to emulate. Another example of a continuity of continuity is a personal experience of symmetry.” Deborah Hay, Using the Sky: a dance, Wesleyan University Press (2019)
[2] The cellular body could be described as a nonlinear, discontinuous yet intelligent entity – an entity that remains in an ineffable relation to itself which includes everything in existence.
[3] “Turn your f´`*king head” is an iconic expression used by Deborah Hay to exemplify the turning of the head as an impetus for refreshing one’s attention to what he or she is attending. Cf. Using the Sky.
[4] Deborah Hay uses this three-part theory to describe the evolution of her dance practice. Each part constitutes pivotal steps in the process of unlearning – learning how to move without being governed by learned behavior. Cf. Using the Sky.
[5] Deborah Hay, My body, the Buddhist, Wesleyan University Press (2000).


Imani Rameses is a dancer, choreographer, and cognitive scientist. Her practice exists in the liminal spaces between explicit and tacit knowledge. She’s fallen in love with the ineffable quest of the self and coalesces science and art to wield ephemeral expositions.