Molissa Fenley and Company


Molissa Fenley (1954) founded Molissa Fenley and Company in 1977 and has since created over 85 dance works during her continuing career.  She grew up in Ibadan, Nigeria traveling there with her family in 1961, completing all of her early education there in International Schools and her last two years of high school in Spain. She returned to the US in 1971 to study dance at Mills College in Oakland, California. Upon graduation in 1975, she moved to New York.

With her company, Molissa Fenley and Company, and as a soloist working in collaboration with visual artists and composers, she has performed throughout the United States, Canada, South America, Europe, Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong.  Her work has been commissioned by the American Dance Festival, the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival, the Dia Art Foundation, Jacob’s Pillow, the Joyce Theater, The Kitchen, Lincoln Center, the New National Theater of Tokyo, The National Institute of Performing Arts in Seoul, and by Dance Theater Workshop/New York Live Arts. Both Cenotaph and State of Darkness were awarded a Bessie for Choreography in 1985 and 1988, respectively.

Molissa has also created many works on ballet and contemporary dance companies, most recently for Barnard College Columbia University, Oakland Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Robert Moses' Kin and the Seattle Dance Project. She is a Guggenheim Fellow, a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome, has enjoyed residencies at the Baryshnikov Art Center, the Bogliasco Foundation in Genoa, Italy, Djerassi, TopazArts and Yaddo, is the recipient of two Asian Cultural Council residencies in Japan and a Master Artist of the Atlantic Center for the Arts. Molissa is the Danforth Professor of Dance at Mills College, in residence in the spring semesters, and often teaches choreographic workshops at other universities, most recently at Barnard College Columbia University, Hunter College and the Experimental Theater Lab of New York University. 

National performances by the company have taken place at the Joyce Theater, Summerstage, The Kitchen, City Center, Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors, Jacob's Pillow, the Anderson Collection at Stanford University, and at many outdoor venues.

Seagull Press recently published Rhythm Field: The Dance of Molissa Fenley with essays by Molissa and her colleagues including Peter Boal, Rande Brown, Bob Holman, Bill T. Jones, David Moodey, Richard Move, Ann Murphy, Tere O'Connor, Elizabeth Streb and Paz Tanjuaquio,  with foreword by Philip Glass and epilogue by Stephen Greco and including archival photographs. Molissa, with company members Christiana Axelsen and Rebecca Chaleff, has just completed Water Table, an evening length work comprised of eight parts.  Recent performances included a season at New York Live Arts, June 14-18, 2016.


Molissa Fenley (Choreographer and Performer) was born in Las Vegas, Nevada in 1954. She was six years old when her family moved to Ibadan, Nigeria where her father worked with USAID. She attended high school in Spain and then returned to the US to attend and graduate from Mills College in Oakland, California with a BA in Dance in 1975.  She moved to New York City that year and formed Molissa Fenley and Company in 1977. In her 38-year career she has choreographed over 80 works.

Early works were commissioned by The Kitchen (MIX, 1979), Dance Theater Workshop (ENERGIZER, 1980 and EUREKA, 1982) and the American Dance Festival (GENTLE DESIRE, 1981).   The company began to tour nationally and internationally in 1980.  The Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival commissioned HEMISPHERES in 1983, with music by Anthony Davis and visual element by Francesco Clemente and GEOLOGIC MOMENTS in 1986, with music by Philip Glass and Julius Eastman.  CENOTAPH (1985), with  music by Jamaaladeen Tacuma and text by Eric Bogosian and commissioned by Jacob's Pillow, was awarded a "Bessie" for Choreography.  STATE OF DARKNESS, a solo set to Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps. a commission from the American Dance Festival was performed over 50 times in many venues around the world. In 1990, the Brisbane Biennial featured this work with live orchestra, one of Fenley's most memorable performances.  A "Bessie" was awarded to State of Darkness, both for Fenley's performance in 1988 and for Peter Boal's performance in 1999.  Five dancers have danced this work to date:  Fenley, until 1994, Peter Boal from 1999-2000, and Rachel Foster, James Moore and Jonathan Porretta of the Pacific Northwest Ballet  in June 2007, where once again the work was performed with a live orchestra at the 125th anniversary of Stravinsky's music presented by the Pacific Northwest Ballet at McCaw Hall in Seattle, WA. The work remains in their repertory and was performed as part of their Director's Choice programing  March 14-25, 2014.

From 1988 through 1997, Fenley choreographed solo works in collaboration with contemporary visual artists and composers.  A few highlights include:  THE FLOOR DANCES (1989), with music by Henryk Gorecki and sculpture by Richard Long (revived in 2013 at New York Live Arts); WITCHES' FLOAT (1993), with music by Alvin Lucier and set by Kiki Smith, (revived in 2013 at New York Live Arts, performed by Holley Farmer); NULLARBOR (1993) with music by Robert Lloyd and set by Richard Long; BRIDGE OF DREAMS (1994) with music by Laurie Anderson and set by Kiki Smith; SITA (1995) with music by Philip Glass and photography by Sandi Fellman and TRACE (1996) with music by Jonathan Hart Makwaia, set by Roy Fowler and text by John Jesurun.

Since 1997, Fenley has returned to working with an ensemble.  Performances by the company have taken place at the Joyce Theater, Summerstage, The Kitchen, City Center, Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors, the Rovereto Festival, Italy, Jacob's Pillow, and many others. 

Company works from 1999-2016 include some of the following:  ON THE OTHER OCEAN (1999) with music by David Behrman; TIMBRAL INVENTIONS (1999) with music by John Cage; DELTA (1999) with music by John Cage; SKY GARDEN (2000) performed in silence; 331 STEPS (2001) with music by Laetitia Sonami and set by Merrill Wagner; KURO SHIO (2002) with music by Bun-Ching Lam; WATER COURSES (2002) with music by poet Joy Harjo; LAVA FIELD (2004) with music by John Bischoff; DESERT SEA (2004) with music by Lou Harrison; PATTERNS AND EXPECTATIONS (2005) with music by Fred Frith; DREAMING AWAKE (2006) with music by  Philip Glass; CALCULUS AND POLITICS (2007) with music by Harry Partch; COSMATI VARIATIONS 1-4 (2008) with music by John Cage; ICE,DEW,FOOD,CREW,APE (2009) with music by Alvin Curran and poetry by Bob Holman; DOUBLE BEGINNING  (2010) with poetry by Bob Holman; THE PROP DANCES (2010), a collaboration with five visual artists and four contemporary music composers: MASS BALANCE with prop by Todd Richmond and music by Cenk Ergun; 94 FEATHERS with props by Merrill Wagner and music by Cenk Ergun; PLANES IN AIR with props by Roy Fowler and music by Joan Jeanrenaud; PIECES OF LAND with props by Jene Highstein and music by Jason Hoopes and PROP DANCE #5 with props by Keith Sonnier and music by Lainie Fefferman; THE VESSEL STORIES, (2011), a work in three parts with music by Philip Glass, String Quartet #4 (Buczak); CREDO IN US (2011), with music by John Cage and CROSS BRIDGE (2012), a work made in collaboration with Holley Farmer, John Jesurun, David Moodey and Rosemary Quinn; FOUND OBJECT (2013), with contributions from Roy Fowler (painter), Erin Gee (composer), John Guare (playwright), Joy Harjo (poet), Jene Highstein (sculptor) and Rudy Wurlitzer (writer) commissioned and premiered at New York Live Arts; REDWOOD PARK (2014) commissioned by Oakland Ballet; REDWOOD PARK II (2014) premiered in New York. DANCE AN IMPOSSIBLE SPACE (2014), a collaboration with Erin Gee; SEVEN (2015, a piece commissioned by Dana and Shinichi Iova-Koga as part of 95 Rituals for Anna Halprin; WATER TABLE (2016), a work in 8 parts; RUE SURF (2016), a collaboration with poet Bob Holman and Molissa Fenley presented in celebration of New Wave, an exhibition of paintings by Roy Fowler. Fort Gansevoort Gallery, New York; CIRCADIAN RHYTHM (2016), a duet for Christiana Axelsen and Molissa Fenley created in collaboration with visual artist Robert Gaylor with music by Peter Garland, presented in residence at the National Dance Institute, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Ms. Fenley's work has been presented throughout the United States, South America, Europe, Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong, among others.  She has choreographed works for the Ohio Ballet (FERAL, 1986); the Australian Dance Theatre (A DESCENT INTO THE MAELSTROM, 1986);  the Deutsche Oper Ballet of Berlin (BRIDGE OF DREAMS, 1994); the National Ballet School of Canada (INNER ENCHANTMENTS, 1986); the Performing Dance Company at the University of Utah (TIMBRAL INVENTIONS, 1999), ESCALAY, 1999) and I AND YOU RESEMBLE EACH OTHER, NOW, 1999); Peter Boal (WAITING FOR RAIN, 2002) the Korea/Japan Performing Arts Exchange Association (KURO SHIO, 2003);  DESERT SEA (2005) for the Repertory Dance Theater, Salt Lake City, STATE OF DARKNESS for Peter Boal in 1999, for the Pacific Northwest Ballet in 2007, for Rebecca Chaleff in 2016; CASTOR and PLANES IN AIR for the Seattle Dance Project and THE VESSEL STORIES (2012) for Robert Moses' Kin. Her work has also been performed by Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Elisa Monte and David Brown, Dance Alloy, Young Soon Kim Dance Company, Peggy Baker Dance Projects, Richard Move, Felicia Norton and Li Chiao-Ping, and others.  Her work resides in the repertory companies of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, the University of Georgia at Athens and Mills College in Oakland, California. LATITUDES (1997), a dance for the web commissioned by the Dia Art Foundation, can be viewed at  
  Fenley has been on the dance faculty at Mills College since 1999, in residence every spring semester.  Since 2003, she has also taught choreography at the Experimental Theater Wing of New York University. She was awarded a Rome Prize for a six month residency at the American Academy in Rome from February through August 2008, and named a 2008 Guggenheim Fellow.  In February 2009 she was in residence at  the Atlantic Center for the Arts where ICE, DEW, FOOD, CREW, APE with music by Alvin Curran and poetry by Bob Holman premiered.  Recent New York City performances of the company include the Judson Memorial Church in September 2009; as part of the 75th anniversary celebrations of the 92nd Street  Y in March, 2010; THE PROP DANCES, works made in collaboration with five contemporary visual artists and four composers and the revival of Regions (1995), supported by an award from the NEA American Masterpieces Initiative at Joyce Soho, November 2010.

Notable recent performances include the premiere of THE VESSEL STORIES at the Days and Nights Festival in Carmel, California August 2011; CREDO IN US,  a new work set to the John Cage score from 1942, premiered at the Art Museum at Mills College on September 2011. Both THE VESSEL STORIES and CREDO IN US received their New York premieres at the Judson Memorial Church in January 2012. CROSS BRIDGE, a work made in collaboration with Holley Farmer, John Jesurun, David Moodey and Rosemary Quinn premiered at Club La MaMa in December 2012. FOUND OBJECT and the revivals of ENERGIZER, THE FLOOR DANCES and WITCHES' FLOAT were presented at New York Live Arts in October 2013.
RHYTHM FIELD: THE DANCE OF MOLISSA FENLEY with essays by Molissa and her colleagues including Peter Boal, Rande Brown, Bob Holman, Bill T. Jones, David Moodey, Richard Move, Ann Murphy, Tere O'Connor, Elizabeth Streb and Paz Tanjuaquio,  with foreword by Philip Glass and epilogue by Stephen Greco and including archival photographs was published by Seagull Press in July 2015.

Christiana Axelsen

Christiana Axelsen has been dancing with Molissa Fenley since 2013. She assists Molissa in reconstructing major repertory works and has served as a rehearsal director setting Molissa’s work on Oakland Ballet, Repertory Dance Theater in Salt Lake City and Barnard/Columbia. She currently dances for Christopher Williams and Courtney Kantz and has had the pleasure to work with Pam Tanowitz, Beth Gill, Michou Szabo, zoe|juniper, Dai Jian, Anne Zuerner, Mana Kawamura, Dylan Crossman and Korhan Basaran among others. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude with a degree in dance and geology from Mount Holyoke College and is a graduate of the Merce Cunningham Professional Training Program where she performed alongside the Repertory Understudy Group.



Rebecca Chaleff

Rebecca Chaleff is a Ph.D. candidate in the department of Theater and Performance Studies at Stanford University. She has had the pleasure of performing with Pat Catterson, Douglas Dunn and Dancers, Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, and the Merce Cunningham Repertory Understudy Group, among others, and is also currently a member of GeraldCaselDance. Rebecca co-founded The Becky Collective with colleague Rebecca Ormiston in 2012 to create collaborative dance theater; most recently, they co-devised and co-directed fox mirror forest, a site-specific work set in Stanford's Frost Amphitheater. Since joining Molissa Fenley and Company in 2012, Rebecca has had the pleasure of reconstructing and originating roles in numerous works that span the breadth of Fenley's oeuvre. This spring she had the privilege of learning Fenley's iconic State of Darkness; she is now one of the four women who perform the dance.


Peiling Kao

Peiling Kao, a native of Taipei, Taiwan, has been a freelance dancer for 16 years. After graduating from Taipei National University of the Arts in 1996 with a BFA in Dance, she worked as a full-time teacher at Cloud Gate Dance School in Taiwan. She has trained in ballet, contemporary, modern dance, Chinese Traditional Dance, Chinese Martial Art, improvisation, and contact improvisation. In 2007, Kao was awarded the Taiwan-England artists’ residency, hosted by Independent Dance based at Siobhan Davis Studios in London. In 2010, she finished her MFA in Choreography and Performance at Mills College, receiving an E.L Wiegand Foundation Award for excellence in performance and choreography. In 2012, she was awarded an Izzie (Isadora Duncan Dance Award) for Outstanding Achievement in Performance for the collaborative work, Terra Incognita: Revisited. Peiling is presently an assistant professor at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. Prior to this recent appointment, she taught dance at Mills College, Austin Peay State University, and at the Chinese American International School as a visiting artist. Her work has been presented at Austin Peay State University, The Garage and the Luggage Store Gallery in SF, and Temescal Art Center and Mills College in Oakland. She has danced with Molissa Fenley and Company since 2010.

Alyssa Lee Wilmot

Alyssa Lee Wilmot, Assistant to Molissa Fenley, Former Company member began her studies with Molissa as a graudate student at Mills College. Alyssa received her BA in Philosophy, Dance and Political Science from The College of Wooster, and an MFA in Dance Choreography and Performance from Mills College. Alyssa holds numerous Pilates and fitness certifications, is the artistic director and choreographer for her dance and performance company, group A, and owns and operates The Movement Factory in Cleveland, Ohio. She has been a faculty member and a visiting artist at a variety of colleges, universities, and performance spaces, and has performed and had work presented nationally and internationally. Alyssa has served as Molissa Fenley's assistant since 2010 and performed with Molissa Fenley and Company intermittently from 2002-2011. 

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April 30, 2017, 6pm - free
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July 11-15, 2017
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Florence Dance Festival
July 14, 2017
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