The Shot

set to ‘The Backyard’ from the opera Private Parts by Robert Ashley
The Shot.  Sheila Jacobs, Stephanie Feyne (foreground), and Margaret Fisher, in San Francisco, 1983. Photo © 1983 Frank Wing

About the work

The Shot, for three dancers, was commissioned in 1982 by the performance space P.S.1 for the ParaNarrative Festival in New York and is set to one movement of Robert Ashley's spoken opera Private Parts. Two of the dancers gesture in American Sign Language. The third dancer uses cellular movement technique to distill and refine her gestures. Cellular movement concerns the formation of gestures within a hierarchy of hieroglyphs, dialects and phrases. The work's play of differing perspectives on language is mirrored in the spatial illusion of the two intersecting planes in which the dancers move.


  • Choreography:  Margaret Fisher
  • Music:  Private Parts/The Backyard by Robert Ashley, performed by Robert Ashley and BlueJean Tyranny


  • “ParaReview,”  Sally R. Sommer, The Village Voice, June 8, 1982.   “The second weekend on Sunday was terrific. Margaret Fisher, Tim Miller, and Johanna Boyce’s pieces were unusual and exciting. Fisher’s The Shot fused American sign language and dance in a spare work of rare visual beauty. While Robert Ashley’s mesmerizing words and music slipped around the ears, Sue Yabroff, Fisher and Margaret Ransom spoke in the elegant silent language of the deaf. Lying on tiny clear plexiglass benches, their heads towards us, each wearing a colorful hat, Yabroff and Ransom flanked a minute table on its side set with black cups and saucers. The illusion was one of looking down on a coffee klatch from the top of a very high building/ Tête-a-tête, their hands wove in eloquent speech. Fisher knelt on her plexiglass, signing in larger looping gestures, letting us in on that quiet world of visualized words.”

  • “New Work Shows Fisher At Her Best,”  Charles Shere, The Tribune, March 29, 1983.   “Margaret Fisher is probably the most impressive choreographer-dancer-performance artist in the area. Her long strong body, disciplined by Yoga exercise, articulates movement, not merely gestures or attitudes. She is intelligent and pursues the real meaning of movement, even the movement of meaning as it slips from one context to another. Best of all, she allows movement to dominate performances which nevertheless reward the eye and ear with subtly reinforcing actions of startling inventiveness....

    “Fisher has been working on a profound examination of movement as it illustrates the kind of structural organization which is seen in all language.... [Her] new piece was “Private Parts/The Backyard,” set to a scene from Robert Ashley’s opera of that name. The only work to use décor, it was sufficient to demonstrate the Fisher approach-which is not to move through a theatrical space, but to use the stage as an area in which to develop parallel meanings....

    “The sign language [was] a graceful dance of four hands while Fisher took up more complex abstract interplay of movement upstage left. In every case the movements exactly accompanied Ashley, and the juxtapositions of different contexts of movement articulated the larger structures of his opera.

    “Fisher uses similar distancing in all her work: tiny insect like movements performed with incredibly strong but compelling gestures which would be bizarre or grotesque except for her cool neutral presence which is beyond beauty.”

Performance History

  • Preview: Teatro L'Avogaria, Venezia, Italy, April, 1982
  • Premiere: Para-Narrative Dance Festival at P.S.1 (now MOMA PS1), Long Island City, NY, May, 1982
  • Performance: American Inroads, New Performance Gallery, San Francisco, CA, March, 1983.