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Flash Review 2, 2-10: The Molissa Medley
Fenley Meditates on Gesture Texture

By Albert Lee
Copyright 2000 Albert Lee

Ensemble and soloist were in good form Wednesday at the Kitchen, where Molissa Fenley presented three premieres--"Island," "Voices," and "Weathering"--and a reworking of 1998's "On the Other Ocean." Fenley, known for her soloist work, appeared with an impressive medley of collaborators, including Foofwa d'Immobilite (ne Frederic Gafner), cellist Joan Jeanrenaud (formerly of the Kronos Quartet), and the visual artist Carol Hopper.

How appropriate for d'Immobilite, a former Merce Cunningham dancer, to perform the opening solo "Island." Fenley is, like Cunningham, a formalizer of movement and rhythm, an eschewer of theatrical themes. Not quite a laboratory of movement, her choreography feels to me instead like extended meditations on gesture texture. Raise the arm. Flex the foot. Hop over here. Breathe. It's fun to watch. Mostly, the movements keep comin' atchya-there aren't a lot pauses (except, notably, in "Weathering," which has many).

By the way, Fenley has a talent for arm curvature. Lord knows how she does it. One simple movement creates oceans, or birds, or dissembled human emotion. She's Yahweh-like. A lot of work goes into the arms. She's crafted amazingly portentous attitudes and arabesques, too, but - those arms!

In the breezy "Island," the arms--Foofwa's, actually--channel avian intelligence. D'Immobilite holds his at a forty-five degree angle to his side, with wrists bent down. Then, unexpectedly, he inverts them above his head, like a shrug or a preening male peacock's salute to the opposite sex. The hands come washing down over his face (birdbath, no doubt) and clap together in front of him (bird call!). Patti Monson (playing an original score by Harold Meltzer) manages the miracle of making her flute thrum and sing like Caribbean drums; and Hopper's shimmering fish-scale sculpture, hung from wires, caught and recast lighting designer David Moodey's moody reds, oranges, and blues. The joy of art is also the joy of our arrogant imaginations, but with "Island," Fenley gave us clues.

When "On the Other Ocean" premiered in 1998 in Central Park, Fenley performed it solo on a very big stage with a giant aqua-lit scrim billowing majestically behind her. (A cool evening breeze came right on cue.) She looked tiny, yet remarkably serene. On Wednesday, it was reworked into a longer quartet for Kerry Ring, Paz Tanjuaquio, Heather Waldon, and Meg Wolfe. The piece lost some kind of magic--communion a natura--in the Kitchen space, but the quartet yielded a new focus on pattern and rhythm. Performed in and out of unison and solo to three-person horus, the piece was transformed by Fenley from a solo in a vast, oceanic world into unfolding geometries. A flute, oboe, and synthesizer hummed unchanging notes, creating a harmonium effect. Moodey, the lighting designer, and David Behrman, who composed the music, deserve half the credit for the dance's profoundly meditative quality.

"Voices" and "Weathering" were solo pieces performed by Fenley, in her rigorously dissociative style, and accompanied by Jeanrenaud on cello. "Voices" comprised variations on introspective dance and cello phrases. Sometimes Fenley would reproduce the cellist's piccata--quick hops and turn of the elbow--drawing out a delicate dialogue in sign language. "Weathering"'s many pauses seemed to mark psychic interruptions; Fenley would lift a foot, say, pause, then push further, less to test physical limits than mental ones. The set, designed by Merrill Wagner, comprised piles of ragged clothing on the floor and hanging from wires. Yet there were no ghosts. Fenley danced as if the clothes were not there, yet they leavened the movement--it was always in relation to the clothes.

The evening closed with 1989's "Provenance Unknown," an oscillating dance set against the aural wallpaper of Philip Glass's "Metamorphosis" string quartet.

The program continues at the Kitchen through Saturday, February 19. "Escalay" (with the "Ocean" quartet and Reginald Ellis Crump) and "I and you resemble each other now" (with Nathan Balser and Kimberly Richardson) replace "Voices," "Weathering, "and "Provenance Unknown" on some nights.

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