Lamb at the Altar

The Story of a Dance

Lamb at the Altar

Book Pages: 136 Illustrations: 40 b&w photographs, 95 diagrams Published: May 1994

Author: Deborah Hay

Contributor: Phyllis Liedeker

Theater and Performance > Dance

"The intention of my work is to dislodge assumptions about the fixity of the three-dimensional body."—Deborah Hay

Her movements are uncharacteristic, her words subversive, her dances unlike anything done before—and this is the story of how it all works. A founding member of the famed Judson Dance Theater and a past performer in the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Deborah Hay is well known for choreographing works using large groups of trained and untrained dancers whose surprising combinations test the limits of the art. Lamb at the Altar is Hay’s account of a four-month seminar on movement and performance held in Austin, Texas, in 1991. There, forty-four trained and untrained dancers became the human laboratory for Hay’s creation of the dance Lamb, lamb, lamb . . . , a work that she later distilled into an evening-length solo piece, Lamb at the Altar. In her book, in part a reflection on her life as a dancer and choreographer, Hay tells how this dance came to be. She includes a movement libretto (a prose dance score) and numerous photographs by Phyllis Liedeker documenting the dance’s four-month emergence.
In an original style that has marked her teaching and writing, Hay describes her thoughts as the dance progresses, commenting on the process and on the work itself, and ultimately creating a remarkable document on the movements—precise and mysterious, mental and physical—that go into the making of a dance. Having replaced traditional movement technique with a form she calls a performance meditation practice, Hay describes how dance is enlivened, as is each living moment, by the perception of dying and then involves a freeing of this perception from emotional, psychological, clinical, and cultural attitudes into movement. Lamb at the Altar tells the story of this process as specifically practiced in the creation of a single piece.


"This book counters the monolithic notions of who the ‘postmodern’ dancers are. As Lamb at the Altar identifies the contemporary work of an artist usually associated with the Judson Dance Theater of the 60s it reveals someone who has evolved, gained a new but no less creative maturity, and who now sees her work very differently than in those old days of protest and rebellion. The intertextual format is engaging, multifaceted, and modern, probably like the dance itself." — Marcia B. Siegel, author of Tail of the Dragon: New Dance, 1976–1982

"This is a remarkable and wonderful text whose publication will benefit the dance community enormously. It contributes crucial new dimensions to the process of documenting both dancing and dance-making. It breaks new ground as writing about the choreographic process, and at the same time, it reflects beautifully on the work of an exceptional artist." — Susan L. Foster, author of Reading Dancing


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Born in Brooklyn in 1941, Deborah Hay began her career with the Judson Dance Theater and the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in the 1960s. In the early 1970s she created a series of Ten Circle Dances, which were collected in the book Moving through the Universe in Bare Feet. Since 1976 she has lived in Austin, Texas, where she conducts annual large-group workshops, each lasting four months and culminating in public performances. She has performed and taught workshops in Europe, Canada, Mexico, Australia, and throughout the United States.

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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-1439-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-1448-6
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