Though only an hour long, Deborah Hay’s Horse, the Solos (2021), set on the dancers of Cullberg (founded in 1967 as the Cullberg Ballet by the late, eminent Swedish choreographer Birgit Cullberg), was difficult to sit through, a meandering, shapeless work that provided few visual pleasures and even fewer moments of human interaction.
Hay provided a “Choreographer’s Note” to explain how Horse was painstakingly produced during the recent Covid Pandemic shutdown, created on the dancers via instructions communicated by computer screens and a trusted rehearsal director. Hay stated, “Horse, the Solos” relies on two common attributes of survival, risk and efficiency.”
Her opaque, overly intellectual analysis is a product of her years in the world of avant-garde dance, the Judson Dance Theater and the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. The dry, boring dance on the Joyce Theater stage was a reflection of her experimental past, the influential lessons of which have long been absorbed into the greater dance world.
Her untheatrical choreography is totally opposite to the works created by Cullberg who was famous for her story ballets like Miss Julie, The Moon Reindeer and The Lady from the Sea, all using the classical ballet vocabulary including point work.
Horse, the Solos places seven members of Cullberg on stage performing individual movement motifs. The solos appeared to be arbitrary combinations of Cunningham technique, everyday gestures and tai chi. The seven soloists moved about the stage in funereal darkness—dismal lighting created by Minna Tiikkainen—wearing vivid red outfits designed by Behnaz Aram, the sole evidence of warmth on the stage of The Joyce.
The effect was less mesmerizing than soporific.
It was difficult to ascertain the individual talents of these dancers because the demands made upon them were minimal except having to memorize disconnected, unmusical phrases repeated over and over. They weren’t helped by the semi-electronic score by Graham Reynolds which rumbled ominously for most of the hour, providing no rhythmic support.
This was an odd choice for this troupe to bring to New York, a work that didn’t show off the dancers. Perhaps the artistic director, Kristine Slettevold was trying to show off the company’s modern dance bona fides?
The program notes contained a short history of the Cullberg company, but—disrespectfully, in my opinion—provided no biography of Birgit Cullberg, herself.
Cullberg: Horse, the Solos (through February 5, 2023)
Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-242-0800 or visit http://www.Joyce.org
Running time: 60 minutes without an intermission