Review/Dance; Energetic as Usual, Works by Molissa Fenley
Anna Kisselgoff, The New York Times
October 18, 1990
Molissa Fenley remains one of the experimental dance scene's most independent choreographers, admirably beholden to no faction or fashion. She opened a week of solo concerts on Tuesday night with a program that included her amazing treatment of Stravinsky's ''Rite of Spring,'' which roused the audience into a frenzy of enthusiasm.
In the two other pieces, at the Joyce Theater (175 Eighth Avenue, at 19th Street), the evolution within her own repertory was striking.
''Bardo,'' the premiere and one reportedly inspired by a concept in Tibetan philosophy, focuses on the intensely centered stillness already evident in the 1989 solo that opened the program: ''The Floor Dances (Requiem for the Living).''
''State of Darkness,'' the Stravinsky solo created in 1988, peaks with the full-blown whiplash power that brought Miss Fenley to special notice in the late 1970's. But it, too, has crucial moments of deeply channeled concentration, so much so that when the dancer explodes into a physical release, this energy carries the audience along emotionally. Several viewers could be seen sitting on the edge of their seats at this point.
Miss Fenley's uncompromising rigor is not necessarily everyone's idea of entertainment. But the sheer stamina involved in this tour de force of a 40-minute solo could be recognized by everyone. Emotion through energy, no matter how modulated, is her form of communication.
Miss Fenley, dancing bare breasted and in black tights, birdlike whether quivering in minute muscular nuances or leaping exultantly with arms flung out, terminated this huge physical effort by standing and then suddenly stepping forward. Like a partisan accepting execution, she embodied in this acceptance the sacrificial victim offered to the gods in Stravinsky's ''Rite of Spring.''.
Miss Fenley's imagery has an expressionistic streak rendered in purely abstract terms. It is never grounded in literal description but neither is her work only formal, concerned with movement for its own sake or with structures alone. Obviously, it was a mistake to see Miss Fenley in the same category as other choreographers, who also use a reductive vocabulary and repetition. She uses these devices differently, less mathematically or less mystically. True, she is often concerned with rituals but the gods to whom they are addressed take the form of self.
''Bardo'' for example, is obviously concerned with some sort of spiritual journey. The title of the premiere is a Tibetan word, meaning a dreamlike suspension between two worlds. That state is life, between birth and death.
The entire dance, except for one move to the rear, consists of Miss Fenley's trajectory in a diagonal across the stage against a backdrop that thanks to David Moodey's superb lighting, takes on the pale blue-green hue of Celanese pottery.
It is a solo of great purity, but also one that is difficult to watch in that its minute modifications are difficult to see. On the surface, it looks like a series of poses, usually with in some sort of plie or knee bend. Yet Miss Fenley's weight is often shifted unexpectedly in these still moments. A twisted torso or a knee bent to the side creates a sculptural shape; a plie drops into a deeper one. The illusion is that the solo is performed in slow motion, when it is actually being defined with clarity.
''Bardo,'' dedicated to the memory of Keith Haring, uses a score by Somei Satoh, ''Mantra.'' The chanting, Buddhist fashion, grows in intensity and volume, its texture contrasting with the porcelain refinement of the dance.
''The Floor Dances (Requiem for the Living)'' is more accessible although never illustrative. Part druid, part animal creature with fluttering hands, Miss Fenley remains seated or kneeling in the floor here. She is ringed in by a circle of jagged stones, Richard Long's sculptural installation called ''Dancing Stone Circle.''
Inspired by the ''memory of the wildlife devastation of the Alaskan oil spill,'' the solo is completely original, using a cresecendo of movement attached to the floor (Miss Fenley never stands up) with invention and feeling. The wounded bird here is also the shaman who can enter the world of the animal spirits, and the sound of hope is always there in the magnificently chosen music: the first song from ''Symphony of Sorrowful Songs'' by a Polish composer, Henryk M. Gorecki.