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Flash Review 3, 1-17: Pleasing Astringency
At Rest in Movement with Molissa Fenley
By Alicia Mosier
Copyright 2002 Alicia Mosier
NEW YORK -- There is in Molissa Fenley's
dances something that makes us rethink what we come to a dance concert to see.
Instead of high emotion or driving athleticism, there is a pleasing astringency
that calms and focuses the mind. Last night at the Joyce Theater, in the first
of four performances in the Altogether Different festival, Fenley presented four
dances in which one could simply rest in movement. Coming in from the hubbub of
the day, as her time with us began, I stopped, and breathed, and found myself
I don't know how Fenley first found
Peter Boal, but in him she discovered a kindred spirit. Since she created "Pola'a"
in 1996, it has been performed by both her and Boal as a solo. Last night they
danced it together, and the only trouble with the duet version is deciding which
one of them to watch. You can't look away from either one. A lot is going on,
but it seems like not that much: gently unfolding music for strings by Lou Harrison,
gently shifting colors on the backdrop, two dancers in pale blue crossing back
and forth with the lightest of steps. There are few moments for rest -- it demands
incredible stamina -- yet the dance looks restful. Boal gathers air in his arms
three times in a row; he leaps into a quick penchee, one arm thrown down. Fenley
is there with him, her powerful, fleet body speaking in its own language, and
their movements are both a mirror of and a conversation with each other. As a
principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, Boal's defining quality is the
purity of his technique: nothing extraneous, only the best. In "Pola'a" we see
the ultimate purification of Peter Boal, the essence of the dancer he is. This
piece gives him what few of his roles at NYCB are able to -- time -- and working
inside that gift, his dancing grows bolder, easier, more intense and more peaceful
all at once.
"Delta" (2000) has a voodoo atmosphere:
the slightly jazzy feel of John Cage's prepared piano mingles with the weird little
arm-squiggles and sideways jumps that Fenley, Paz Tanjuaquio, and Ori Flomin do.
In their spare black costumes, the dancers look like artifacts. At each moment
one of them wears a white mask, which gives him or her the freedom of semi-anonymity;
they seem to move differently when they put it on. Throughout this piece, with
its constant motion, I was struck by the extraordinary physics of Fenley's dancing:
she can stop on a dime coming out of a turn, and out of a leap she's as solid
as a tree, but she never looks earthbound.
The three dancers in "331 Steps,"
which premiered last night, are like three beautiful exotic birds having their
way in the courtyards of the city late at night. The music is a found-sound score
by Merrill Wagner, full of subway noises, marbles, thunder, feedback, and singing.
Fenley, Lesley Braithwaite, and Tanjuaquio -- in Evan Ayotte's costumes of yellow,
rust, and teal, with long bands of fabric attaching them to the exposed brick
of the theater's back wall -- twine around each other, their lush extensions interspersed
with spurts of switch-legged hopping. At one moment, Braithwaite lays down on
her stomach and bounces her head an inch above the floor. At another, Tanjuaquio
contracts on one leg, fists pumping in around her body. All the while their long
tails are braiding over and under. You forget about meaning; the pace of the thing
is so beautiful.
The two parts of "short stories"
come from two sides of Fenley's career; as her program note says, they bridge
a gap of 19 years. Part one is a reconstruction of the finale of "Hemispheres"
(1983); part two, "Sky Garden," is new. Together, they are like something from
Mount Olympus. The first half (for Tanjuaquio , Braithwaite, and Nora Chipaumire)
is full of fun and bustle, picking up the shifting time signatures of Anthony
Davis's music for horns and piano. The second (which brings in Flomin and Linda
Sastradipradja) is almost frieze-like, almost courtly, with the energy of the
preceding episode distilled into joy. The forward-blasting jumps in the "Hemispheres"
finale evolve, in "Sky Gardens" (which is performed in silence), into a circle
of dancers with arms swept upward in a V. The story of "short stories," one might
say, is of Fenley growing older, more centered, more herself. These days, she
gives us more than energy -- she gives us peace.
Molissa Fenley and company can be
seen at the Joyce through Sunday. Please visit the
Joyce website for more information.
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