Interview with Molissa Fenley
Molissa Fenley and Ann Murphy, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
January 9, 2012
Interview with Molissa Fenley conducted by Ann Murphy on June 28 and 29, 2010 at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts in New York City as part of the Oral History Project. 5 sound discs (ca. 276 min.): digital ; 4 3/4 in. + transcript (121 leaves).
Disc 1, June 28, 2010 (ca. 55 min.). Molissa Fenley speaks with Ann Murphy about her family background and international childhood; her memories of Nigeria, including, the physical environment, the place of girls and women in the society, education, the physicality of the Nigerians, the arts, traveling around the country with her father; her relationship with her mother; her mother's illness [multiple sclerosis] and belief in Christian Science; memories of childhood celebrations in Nigeria; her perceptions as a child regarding race; memories of dancing at Fela Kuti's club and other ways in which she interacted with native Nigerians as well as her reflections on these interactions.
Disc 2, June 28 continued (ca. 66 min.). Molissa Fenley continues to speak with Ann Murphy about her schooling, particularly her memories of boarding at the International School in Ibadan; finishing high school in Spain and her burgeoning interest in the arts at that time; her developing interest in dance; the decision to go to college in the United States and entering Mills College with dance as her major; the influence of her first dance teacher, Rebecca Fuller; influential educational experiences at Mills College; moving away from her interest in psychology and dance therapy and toward choreography and its relationship to art-making and art history; the earliest piece that she remembers creating; other training after graduation and moving to New York; more on Mills College; her ideas about dance in New York City at that time and reflections on the place she hoped her work would have there; identifying with the intentions of Isadora Duncan and Martha Graham.
Disc 3, June 29, 2010 (ca. 69 min.). Molissa Fenley speaks with Ann Murphy about leaving California for New York City and her first years in the city, her studies and rehearsals; her first dance, Planets; other performances, including her works Mix and Energizer; the polarized responses to her early work; her work in the context of other artists of the period and critical points of view at the time; responds to descriptions of her work in relation to Minimalism; thoughts on creative process and the importance of reviving older works in their original form; the creation of, and ideas behind her work Witches Float, including collaborating with Kiki Smith, and referencing her [Fenley's] work State of Darkness; her interest in shamanic transformation and the relationship among physical, intellectual and spiritual elements as well as the rare occasions in which these elements come together; her need to perform her own choreography; the varied uses of her choreography notebooks, for example, as in her piece Bardo; other aspects of her early creative process including the wide-ranging sources of inspiration that have continued through the present.
Disc 4, June 29 continued (ca. 50 min.). Molissa Fenley continues to speak with Ann Murphy; briefly, about the musicians from Mills College with whom she has worked; her approach to the use of space in her compositions and the relation of her approach to art history; differences between working as a soloist and with other dancers; her current process of working with dancers using instructions sent by email; the Momenta Foundation; her work, The Cosmati Variations as well as more on her creative process in general and approaches to structure, often in relation to visual art; the importance of commitment in all of its manifestations, including as a spiritual practice; her interest in theater; her knee injury and recovery.
Disc 5, June 29 continued (ca. 36 min.). Molissa Fenley continues to speak with Ann Murphy; briefly discusses the most important pieces of her career from a personal viewpoint, including Trace, Weathering, Lava field, and her current work in progress, The prop dances; her collaborations with Philip Glass, including Geologic Moments and Provenance Unknown.