Dance: Molissa Fenley
Jack Anderson, The New York Times
April 29, 1987
MOLISSA FENLEY certainly knows how to make choreography look energetic. Yet though energy is important in dance, energy isn't everything, and over the years Ms. Fenley has struggled to find ways to channel her energy that are artistically satisfying. Some of her successes and failures were on view last night when Molissa Fenley and Dancers opened a week's engagement at the Joyce Theater, Eighth Avenue, at 19th Street.
All four works offered by the group juxtaposed patterns for the feet that were clear in outline and comparatively unadorned, with more intricate movements for the upper body. Ms. Fenley always gave the impression that any sequence in one of her dances could go on forever and that the members of her company were fully capable of performing that sequence forever.
''Energizer,'' choreographed in 1980 to electronic music by Mark Freedman, is a typical example of the sort of work that first drew dancegoers' attention to Ms. Fenley. Elizabeth Benjamin, Silvia Martins, Scottie Mirviss and the choreographer kept bounding about, sometimes varying their bounding with jogging, kicking and galloping. ''Energizer'' resembled a smoothly running perpetual motion machine.
In ''Separate Voices,'' a world premiere, Ms. Fenley, Ms. Martins, Ms. Mirviss, Douglas Johnson and Robert Mason stepped carefully while swaying and bending. Occasionally, they touched one another tenderly and the fact that the piece was danced in silence helped contribute to its overall delicacy. What made the choreography especially interesting was the way Ms. Fenley managed to create movement that was both physically demanding and gentle in nature. Since Ms. Fenley has amply demonstrated that she can bluster, she might now find the choreographic possibilities of gentleness worthy of further exploration.
Unfortunately, as in some of her previous compositions, the new work's sequences seldom possessed cumulative power. The cast just kept going until it was time to stop. To Ms. Fenley's credit, she made everyone keep going quite pleasantly in ''Separate Voices.'' But two other pieces on the program suggested nothing more than that the dancers in them were slogging along.
It was hard to say what ''Cenotaph'' had to do with the type of monument from which it took its title. Rather, this dance, created in 1985, appeared to be a study in grim determination, an impression heightened by its thudding recorded score by Jamaaladeen Tacuma. Two, then three and finally five dancers let their arms swing wide while moving brusquely back and forth. These exertions eventually grew monotonous and wearying to watch, and one was more aware of the dancers' stamina than of Ms. Fenley's choreographic inventiveness.
The tempo slowed down in ''Eidetic Body,'' an excerpt from ''Hemispheres,'' a long work choreographed in 1980 to music by Anthony Davis. Yet the choreography was just as taxing as that of ''Cenotaph.'' Ms. Fenley and Ms. Martins were seen at the outset, and then were joined by Ms. Mirviss, in phrases in which skips and low jumps were combined with curling arm movements and bends forward from the waist.
Although some of these phrases were lyrical, one was still conscious of the overall doggedness of the choreography. Ms. Fenley does tend to get stuck in choreographic grooves. However, the fact that, despite its problems, the new ''Separate Voices'' was more truly lyrical than ''Eidetic Body'' may be a sign that Ms. Fenley continues to seek ways to put her choreographic energy to many different uses.