Dance - Molissa Fenley in Brooklyn
Anna Kisselgoff, The New York Times
November 19, 1983
Molissa Fenley and Dancers, along with Anthony Davis's music ensemble, Episteme, blew into town Thursday night with a potent, exciting new entry in the Brooklyn Academy of Music's ''Next Wave'' series.
For the first time, the true sense of experiment in this experimental series made itself felt with an awesome strangeness. Even the ''decor'' was different, consisting of packets of small prints by the Italian painter Francesco Clemente and given to each member of the public to examine at will. More to the point, ''Hemispheres,'' this world premiere choreographed by Miss Fenley with a commissioned turbulent score by Mr. Davis, does not look, or rather, feel, like anything else on the dance scene.
It rushes in headlong, blasts forth with Miss Fenley's brand of high- speed cannonball dancing, yet its dynamics of the future are permeated with a disturbingly effective primal resonance.
Miss Fenley and her dancers, Silvia Martins and Scottie Mirviss, are very visibly high-tech barefoot performers. How astonishing then that the sensation of the instant is of a tribal explosion, of ritual release, with each woman recalling the sacrificial virgin of another staged pagan rite, Stravinsky's ''Rite of Spring.''
''Hemispheres'' is tough, cerebral in its formal patterns and yet emotional. A program note in a souvenir book indicates that Miss Fenley called her piece ''Hemispheres'' because her governing concept involved the intuitive and the analytical areas of the brain - perhaps as a metaphor for the dominant aspects of her work in general. In addition, her familiarity with Africa, where her father was in government service, and her declared interest in third-world dance traditions, suggested another meaning to ''Hemispheres.''
In Mr. Davis, an avant-garde composer whose interest in African and Asian musical traditions is combined with classical training and experiments with ''new jazz,'' Miss Fenley has met her perfect collaborator.
For this listener, this first encounter with Mr. Davis's music was a revelation, its range of insistent drive and tender lushness also largely responsible for the success of the evening. If one wondered how the intuitive and the analytical would come through onstage, one realized suddenly that it did - that the dichotomy sensed between the ritual release and the structural precision of the choreography was exactly what one felt throughout the hourlong piece.
Let it be said that Mr. Clemente plays no part in this. His participation, on the conceptual level, is not a joke. The ''visual element'' in this production (collaboration with composers and painters is the theme of the ''Next Wave'' series) consists of four different sets of prints. The dominant imagery is of dismembered parts of the body and garotted or bound figures. All well and good. Mr. Clemente's springboard is said to have been a remark about dancers by the French writer Ferdinand Celine - accused of Fascism for his World War II activities.
The point is that Mr. Clemente (who lives in Rome, New York and Madras) is not an American, and his fearful dark world has no point in common with the brave new world in this very American piece by an American choreographer and American composer. Even their Africanisms and Bali-isms are pure American avant-garde.
''Hemispheres'' has three parts, typical Fenley in its concerto structure, with a quiet movement at the center. Mr. Davis, at the piano, and his ensemble conducted by Dwight Andrews, offers an overture, ''Esu at the Crossroads,'' stormy in its pianism and then calm. The three dancers, clad in tuniclike sashed dresses by the fashion designer Rei Kawabuo, from his ''Comme Les Gar,cons'' line, begin ''Before Borders'' to a musical section called ''Little Richard's New Wave.''
No, begin is not the word. When Miss Fenley shoots across the academy's Lepercq Space, arms frenetically vibrating and bent, followed by the two other dancers, each on her own trajectory, the impact is a shock. The pace continues, headlong flings into movement, occasional coming together in unison.
Each section has a movement theme. ''Telepathy,'' set to ''Esu, the Trickster,'' is the second part of the first section. The three dancers intersect, add kicks and turns to their leaps and hops, almost submerged by the sound until everything suddenly winds down. ''Eidetic Body,'' to ''A Walk Through the Shadow,'' starts in silence. The dancers, now in tights, focus on a distortion of the head-down Cave Turn from Martha Graham's idiom. It is all intense, meshing with the extraordinary dreamlike texture of the music.
Miss Fenley, frankly, is less of an adagio than an allegro choregrapher. ''Projection,'' to ''Clonetics,'' brings her back home. The insistent repetitive drive of the music here follows the amazing dancers, whipping around like crazy.