American Masterpieces: Molissa Fenley and Company
Mark Rifkin, This Week in New York
November 4, 2010
Photo © Julie Lemberger
Molissa Fenley had to know she was asking for trouble when she approached five visual artists and asked each of them to create props for a new performance piece. Presented with some very, um, unusual objects, Fenley and her two collaborators, Katie McGreevy and Cassie Mey, are able to incorporate them into a series of beautiful moves that come together wonderfully in THE PROP DANCES, which runs through November 7 at the Joyce SoHo as part of the American Masterpieces series. The evening gets off to a fascinating start with “Pieces of Land,” in which Jene Highstein supplies white cardboard “gloves” for the dancers—oversized rectangles for Mey, squares for McGreevy, and circles for Fenley—that limit use of their hands; they can’t touch, hold, grab, or lift one another. Wearing black tights and loose-fitting tank tops, the dancers move elegantly to Jason Hoopes’s dissonant percussion-based score, the clunky props seamlessly becoming extensions of their bodies. The evening continues with Merrill Wagner’s “94 Feathers,” in which the dancers trade off flat horizontal metal “planters” pierced with feathers and crouch under a small chicken-wire coop, followed by “Planes in Air,” in which they use Roy Fowler’s cream-colored fans that resemble the large shell in Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” and evoke erotic fan dances. Fenley performs the solo piece “Mass Balance,” moving with Todd Richmond’s long, narrow wooden pole on a floor lit like a bamboo forest. The finale, “Prop Dance #5,” has the three dancers sharing a pair of ugly plastic tarps and two blocks of white Styrofoam insulation board, supplied by Keith Sonnier and reminiscent of Miranda July’s “Eleven Heavy Things”; the dancers hide under the tarps, place their extremities through the holes, and gracefully slide around the objects. Although it could have been gimmicky, THE PROP DANCES instead feels like an organic work, with Fenley viewing the odd props not as impediments or handicaps but instead as natural parts of her choreography. After a short intermission, the dancers return to revive Fenley’s 1995 piece, REGIONS, a trio of solos that begins with “Chair,” in which the choreographer sits on a somewhat shaky wooden chair, using her arms and legs to shift her body, and continues with “Ocean Walk,” which on opening night featured Mey gliding gorgeously up and down the stage, like a beautiful wave, and “Mesa,” a lovely piece danced by McGreevy on Thursday. (Fenley will perform “Ocean Walk” and “Mesa,” in addition to “Chair,” on November 6.) An After Hours Q&A will take place after the November 5 performance, moderated by choreographer Elizabeth Streb, who recently performed Trisha Brown’s “Man Walking Down the Side of a Building” on the Whitney facade. Fenley will also be choreographing and dancing in Leslie Scalapino's play FLOW-WINGED CROCODILE on November 16 at Dixon Place.