Molissa Fenley and Company

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Fenley's humanity expressed in dance
Constance Valis Hill, Times Union
May 2, 1996

Isadora Duncan, in flimsy silks, danced barefoot and alone in gardens before aristocrats. Loie Fuller, without a partner, danced over beams of light to transform herself into a butterfly. And Ruth St. Denis, in flowing brocades, commanded the stage all by herself with dances of the Far East.


So it was one hundred years ago for these fiercely independent, pioneering women of American dance. Molissa Fenley now carries the torch. She'll present an evening of original solo dances Friday at the Empire Center at the Egg. Like Duncan, Fuller and St. Denis, Fenley is an independent-minded dance artist with intense physical energies and a uniquely personal dance style. Unlike them, she doesn't rely on silks or beams of light for theatrical effect. She has a bare-boned beauty and the boldness to display the body in all of its myriad configurings.


From where comes this courage to perform as a soloist?


``It was some kind of destiny for me,'' Fenley said by phone recently, from her hotel room in Oregon, where she's touring. ``I've never looked at it from afar. I'm in my skin and living this life. All I know is that it was the right thing to do.''


Born in Las Vegas in 1954, Fenley spent her childhood in Nigeria and her adolescence in Spain, before returning to the United States to receive a degree in dance from Mills College in California. In 1977, after moving to New York City, she formed Molissa Fenley and Dancers, with works that were acclaimed for relentless energy and hard-edged crystalline surface. But despite the critical success of the company, Fenley had a driving desire to go it alone.


In 1988, she disbanded her company to concentrate on choreographing and performing highly personal and deeply felt solo works, the first of which was ``State of Darkness.'' Dancing to Igor Stravinsky's infamously modernist score, Le Sacre duPrintemps (``The Rite of Spring'') and wearing nothing more than a pair of black tights, Fenley evoked images of a shivering bird creature in what the Washington Post described as ``a kind of exalted, tormented odyssey of the soul.'' The dancer had discovered a seemingly limitless range.


``We all stand alone in the world. But we're not trained to be alone,'' said Fenley, who credits her independence to a childhood in Nigeria where she spent hours exploring in the bush. But it is in her solo work that she returns to a relentless exploration of surrounding space. In ensemble work, she explains, dancers must relate to each other, as well as to the space around them.


``But in solo work,'' she adds, ``it is one person's relationship to space. The possibilities for feeling empathy is more personal and intimate.''


Fenley will present three dance works Friday night at the Empire Center: ``Sita,'' danced to Philip Glass' ``Etudes'' and named after the Hindu goddess of loyalty, peace and love, is set against a backdrop of time-lapse photos of Fenley's body.


``Savanna,'' with music by Peter Garland, deals with the idea of wide open spaces. And ``Regions,'' a three-part work to music by Maggie Payne, begins with a movement in a chair (this part made after the dancer was recovering from surgery) and moves through terrains of the mesa and the subterrain of the ocean.


``What I am doing is not a personal quest, it's a human quest,'' Fenley quietly insisted. ``I hope I've embodied different personas in my solos. There's enormous joy in what I do.''

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