Biography

Biography

Molissa Fenley founded Molissa Fenley and Company in 1977 and has since created over 85 dance works during her continuing career. She grew up in Ibadan, Nigeria traveling there with her family in 1961, completing all of her early education there in International Schools and her last two years of high school in Spain. She returned to the US in 1971 to study dance at Mills College in Oakland, California. Upon graduation in 1975, she moved to New York. With her company, Molissa Fenley and Company, and as a soloist working in collaboration with visual artists and composers, she has performed throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, South America, Europe, Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Her work has been commissioned by the American Dance Festival, the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival, the Dia Art Foundation, Jacob's Pillow, the Joyce Theater, Lincoln Center, the New National Theater of Tokyo, The National Institute of Performing Arts in Seoul, The Kitchen, and Dance Theater Workshop/New York Live Arts. Both Cenotaph and State of Darkness were awarded a Bessie for Choreography in 1985 and 1988 respectively. State of Darkness was awarded Outstanding Revival in 2021. 

Molissa has also set many works on ballet and contemporary dance companies, most recently for  Southern Methodist University (Rhythm Field), the Oakland Ballet (Redwood Park), Pacific Northwest Ballet, (State of Darkness), Repertory Dance Theatre (Energizer), Barnard/Columbia (Amdo), Robert Moses' Kin (The Vessel Stories), the Seattle Dance Project, (Planes in Air), Ohio Ballet, (Feral), Deutsche Oper Berlin, (The Bridge of Dreams) She is a Guggenheim Fellow, a Fellow of The American Academy in Rome and has enjoyed residencies at Yaddo, the Bogliasco Foundation, the Baryshnikov Art Center, Djerassi, the Atlantic Center for the Arts, Harvard, Hotchkiss School, Dance HUB in Santa Barbara, Dance Hub in Firenze and Agropoli, Italy and is a twice recipient of awards from the Asian Cultural Council to visit Japan. Molissa is Professor Emerita of Dance, Mills College (1999-2020) and often teaches choreographic and repertory workshops at other universities, most recently at Bennington, Barnard/Columbia, Hunter, and Southern Methodist University. Seagull Press/University of Chicago recently published Rhythm Field: The Dance of Molissa Fenley.

HISTORICAL BIO

Molissa Fenley (Choreographer and Performer) was born in Las Vegas, Nevada in 1954. She was six years old when her family moved to Ibadan, Nigeria where her father worked with USAID. She attended high school in Spain and then returned to the US to attend and graduate from Mills College in Oakland, California with a BA in Dance in 1975. She moved to New York City that year and formed Molissa Fenley and Company in 1977. In her 40-year career she has choreographed over 85 works.

Early works were commissioned by The Kitchen (MIX, 1979), Dance Theater Workshop (ENERGIZER, 1980 and EUREKA, 1982) and the American Dance Festival (GENTLE DESIRE, 1981). The company began to tour nationally and internationally in 1980. The Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival commissioned HEMISPHERES in 1983, with music by Anthony Davis and visual element by Francesco Clemente and GEOLOGIC MOMENTS in 1986, with music by Philip Glass and Julius Eastman. CENOTAPH (1985), with music by Jamaaladeen Tacuma and text by Eric Bogosian and commissioned by Jacob's Pillow, was awarded a "Bessie" for Choreography. STATE OF DARKNESS, a solo set to Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps. a commission from the American Dance Festival was performed over 50 times in many venues around the world. In 1990, the Brisbane Biennial featured this work with live orchestra, one of Fenley's most memorable performances.  A "Bessie" was awarded to State of Darkness, both for Fenley's performance in 1988 and for Peter Boal's performance in 1999. Five dancers have danced this work to date:  Fenley, until 1994, Peter Boal from 1999-2000, and Rachel Foster, James Moore and Jonathan Porretta of the Pacific Northwest Ballet in June 2007, where once again the work was performed with a live orchestra at the 125th anniversary of Stravinsky's music presented by the Pacific Northwest Ballet at McCaw Hall in Seattle, WA. The work remains in their repertory and was performed as part of their Director's Choice programing March 14-25, 2014.

From 1988 through 1997, Fenley choreographed solo works in collaboration with contemporary visual artists and composers. A few highlights include: THE FLOOR DANCES (1989), with music by Henryk Gorecki and sculpture by Richard Long (revived in 2013 at New York Live Arts); WITCHES' FLOAT (1993), with music by Alvin Lucier and set by Kiki Smith, (revived in 2013 at New York Live Arts, performed by Holley Farmer); NULLARBOR (1993) with music by Robert Lloyd and set by Richard Long; BRIDGE OF DREAMS (1994) with music by Laurie Anderson and set by Kiki Smith; SITA (1995) with music by Philip Glass and photography by Sandi Fellman and TRACE (1996) with music by Jonathan Hart Makwaia, set by Roy Fowler and text by John Jesurun.

Since 1997, Fenley has returned to working with an ensemble. Performances by the company have taken place at the Joyce Theater, Summerstage, The Kitchen, City Center, Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors, the Rovereto Festival, Italy, Jacob's Pillow, and many others.

Company works from 1999-2016 include some of the following: ON THE OTHER OCEAN (1999) with music by David Behrman; TIMBRAL INVENTIONS (1999) with music by John Cage; DELTA (1999) with music by John Cage; SKY GARDEN (2000) performed in silence; 331 STEPS (2001) with music by Laetitia Sonami and set by Merrill Wagner; KURO SHIO (2002) with music by Bun-Ching Lam; WATER COURSES (2002) with music by poet Joy Harjo; LAVA FIELD (2004) with music by John Bischoff; DESERT SEA (2004) with music by Lou Harrison; PATTERNS AND EXPECTATIONS (2005) with music by Fred Frith; DREAMING AWAKE (2006) with music by Philip Glass; CALCULUS AND POLITICS (2007) with music by Harry Partch; COSMATI VARIATIONS 1-4 (2008) with music by John Cage; ICE,DEW,FOOD,CREW,APE (2009) with music by Alvin Curran and poetry by Bob Holman; DOUBLE BEGINNING (2010) with poetry by Bob Holman; THE PROP DANCES (2010), a collaboration with five visual artists and four contemporary music composers: MASS BALANCE with prop by Todd Richmond and music by Cenk Ergun; 94 FEATHERS with props by Merrill Wagner and music by Cenk Ergun; PLANES IN AIR with props by Roy Fowler and music by Joan Jeanrenaud; PIECES OF LAND with props by Jene Highstein and music by Jason Hoopes and PROP DANCE #5 with props by Keith Sonnier and music by Lainie Fefferman; THE VESSEL STORIES, (2011), a work in three parts with music by Philip Glass, String Quartet #4 (Buczak); CREDO IN US (2011), with music by John Cage and CROSS BRIDGE (2012), a work made in collaboration with Holley Farmer, John Jesurun, David Moodey and Rosemary Quinn; FOUND OBJECT (2013), with contributions from Roy Fowler (painter), Erin Gee (composer), John Guare (playwright), Joy Harjo (poet), Jene Highstein (sculptor) and Rudy Wurlitzer (writer) commissioned and premiered at New York Live Arts; REDWOOD PARK (2014) commissioned by Oakland Ballet; REDWOOD PARK II (2014) premiered in New York. DANCE AN IMPOSSIBLE SPACE (2014), a collaboration with Erin Gee; SEVEN (2015, a piece commissioned by Dana and Shinichi Iova-Koga as part of 95 Rituals for Anna Halprin; WATER TABLE (2016), a work in 8 parts; RUE SURF (2016), a collaboration with poet Bob Holman and Molissa Fenley presented in celebration of New Wave, an exhibition of paintings by Roy Fowler. Fort Gansevoort Gallery, New York; CIRCADIAN RHYTHM (2016), a duet for Christiana Axelsen and Molissa Fenley created in collaboration with visual artist Robert Gaylor with music by Peter Garland, presented in residence at the National Dance Institute, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Ms. Fenley's work has been presented throughout the United States, South America, Europe, Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong, among others. She has choreographed works for the Ohio Ballet (FERAL, 1986); the Australian Dance Theatre (A DESCENT INTO THE MAELSTROM, 1986); the Deutsche Oper Ballet of Berlin (BRIDGE OF DREAMS, 1994); the National Ballet School of Canada (INNER ENCHANTMENTS, 1986); the Performing Dance Company at the University of Utah (TIMBRAL INVENTIONS, 1999), ESCALAY, 1999) and I AND YOU RESEMBLE EACH OTHER, NOW, 1999); Peter Boal (WAITING FOR RAIN, 2002) the Korea/Japan Performing Arts Exchange Association (KURO SHIO, 2003); DESERT SEA (2005) for the Repertory Dance Theater, Salt Lake City, STATE OF DARKNESS for Peter Boal in 1999, for the Pacific Northwest Ballet in 2007, for Rebecca Chaleff in 2016. CASTOR and PLANES IN AIR for the Seattle Dance Project and THE VESSEL STORIES (2012) for Robert Moses' Kin. Her work has also been performed by Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Elisa Monte and David Brown, Dance Alloy, Young Soon Kim Dance Company, Peggy Baker Dance Projects, Richard Move, Felicia Norton and Li Chiao-Ping, and others. Her work resides in the repertory companies of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, the University of Georgia at Athens and Mills College in Oakland, California. LATITUDES (1997), a dance for the web commissioned by the Dia Art Foundation, can be viewed at
www.diaart.org/program/exhibitions-projects/molissa-fenley-latitudes-web-project/molissa-fenley-latitudes-web-project/title.html

Fenley has been on the dance faculty at Mills College since 1999, in residence every spring semester. Since 2003, she has also taught choreography at the Experimental Theater Wing of New York University. She was awarded a Rome Prize for a six month residency at the American Academy in Rome from February through August 2008, and named a 2008 Guggenheim Fellow.

Some highlights over the last decade: In February 2009 Molissa was in residence at the Atlantic Center for the Arts where ICE, DEW, FOOD, CREW, APE with music by Alvin Curran and poetry by Bob Holman premiered.  During this time New York City performances of the company include the Judson Memorial Church in September 2009; as part of the 75th anniversary celebrations of the 92nd Street  Y in March, 2010; THE PROP DANCES, works made in collaboration with five contemporary visual artists and four composers and the revival of Regions (1995), supported by an award from the NEA American Masterpieces Initiative at Joyce Soho, November 2010. The following year, the premiere of THE VESSEL STORIES at the Days and Nights Festival in Carmel, California August 2011; CREDO IN US, a new work set to the John Cage score from 1942, premiered at the Art Museum at Mills College on September 2011. Both THE VESSEL STORIES and CREDO IN US received their New York premieres at the Judson Memorial Church in January 2012. CROSS BRIDGE, a work made in collaboration with Holley Farmer, John Jesurun, David Moodey and Rosemary Quinn premiered at Club La MaMa in December 2012. FOUND OBJECT and the revivals of ENERGIZER, THE FLOOR DANCES and WITCHES' FLOAT were presented at New York Live Arts in October 2013.


In November 2013 Molissa had a fellowship at Bogliasco in Genova, Italy, where she created and performed a new work DANCE AN IMPOSSIBLE SPACE. In April 2014 Molissa collaborated with Alvin Curran on BEAMS at Mills College Art Museum, In September 2014 Molissa Fenley, Christiana Axelsen, Rebecca Chaleff, Evan Flood, Matthew Robert and Stephanie Salts performed at the Judson Memorial Church with the New York Premiere of REDWOOD PARK PARTS 1 and 2, EPSERANTO REVIVAL and DANCE AND IMPOSSIBLE SPACE. Later in 2014 Molissa performed ENTRANCE with Christiana Axelsen. In February 2015 Rebecca Chaleff, Christiana Axelsen and Molissa performed at Stanford University with ON THE OTHER OCEAN and other pieces.

RHYTHM FIELD: THE DANCE OF MOLISSA FENLEY with essays by Molissa and her colleagues including Peter Boal, Rande Brown, Bob Holman, Bill T. Jones, David Moodey, Richard Move, Ann Murphy, Tere O'Connor, Elizabeth Streb and Paz Tanjuaquio, with foreword by Philip Glass and epilogue by Stephen Greco and including archival photographs was published by Seagull Press in July 2015.

Company Biographies

Christiana Axelsen

Christiana Axelsen is originally from Bainbridge Island, Washington and has been dancing with Molissa Fenley since 2013. She assists Molissa in reconstructing major repertory works and has served as a rehearsal director setting Molissa's work on Oakland Ballet, (Redwood Park), Repertory Dance Theater in Salt Lake City, (Energizer), and Barnard/Columbia, (Amdo). In addition to her work with Molissa Fenley and Company, she has danced with Christopher Williams, Beth Gill, Michou Szabo, zoe|juniper, Korhan Basaran, Courtney Krantz, Dai Jian, Raja Kelly, Jules Skloot and Mana Kawamura among others. She graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in dance and geology from Mount Holyoke College and is a graduate of the Merce Cunningham Professional Training Program. Photo by Quinlan Corbett, 2024

Rebecca Chaleff

Rebecca Chaleff is a dance scholar, performer, and dramaturg. Her academic research focuses on how the politics of race and sexuality shape and are shaped by contemporary reperformance and legacy building projects. As a dancer, Rebecca has performed with GERALDCASELDANCE, Pat Catterson, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company Repertory Understudy Group, Douglas Dunn and Dancers, and the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, among others. She was also the dramaturg for Gerald Casel's Not About Race Dance (2021). Rebecca performed with Molissa Fenley and Company from 2012-2017, during which time she reconstructed and originated roles in numerous works spanning the breadth of Fenley's oeuvre. She served as the Rehearsal Director for the 2020 and 2021 restagings of State of Darkness at The Joyce Theater. Rebecca is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance at SUNY, the University at Buffalo.

Betsy Cooper

Betsy Cooper is Visiting Professor and Chair of the Department of Dance at Marymount Manhattan College, and has served in administrative leadership roles at California State University, Long Beach, the Hartt School, and the University of Washington. Trained at the School of American Ballet, Cooper has performed with classical and contemporary companies nationally and abroad, including Nationaltheater Mannheim, Matthew Nash Music & Dance, San Francisco Opera Ballet, Makarova & Company, Connecticut Ballet and Seattle Dance Project, where she first had the pleasure of performing choreography by Molissa Fenley. Cooper’s scholarly research probes at the intersections of dance, politics, and censorship of the body. She holds an MFA in Dance from the University of Washington, a BA in Archeological Studies from Yale University, and is the recipient of a Distinguished Teaching Award from the University of Washington.

Lloyd Knight

LLOYD KNIGHT (Guest dancer, State of Darkness and Entre Les Lampes) was born in England and reared in Miami. Has a BFA from the New World School of the Arts under Artistic Director Daniel Lewis. Mr. Knight joined the Martha Graham Dance Company in 2005 and was promoted to Principal in 2014. He has had ballets choreographed on him by Nacho Duato twice, Andonis Foniadakis, Larry Keigwin, Doug Varone, Lar Lubovitch, Kyle Abraham, Liz Gerring, Michelle Dorrance, Anne Bogart, Pontus Linberg, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Pam Tanowitz, Hofesh Shechter and Mats Ek. Dance Magazine named Mr. Knight as one of the “Top 25 Dancers to Watch” in 2010. He partnered with New York City Ballet Principal Wendy Whelan in Graham's Moon Duet and with American Ballet Theatre Principal Misty Copeland in Graham’s Letter to the World. He was picked Best Performer of 2015 by Dance Magazine. Bessie nominated for Outstanding Performer in 2022, Lloyd has performed Molissa Fenley’s State of Darkness as part of Joyce Theater Productions presentations in 2020-21, and as a Guest Principal Dancer for Twyla Tharp’s City Center season in 2022. Most recently he was a guest Principal artist for The Royal Ballet of Flanders. Photo: Yung, 2020

Justin Lynch

JUSTIN LYNCH is from Kingston, Jamaica. In addition to his work with Molissa Fenley, he has worked with the Bang Group, the Merce Cunningham Trust, the Metropolitan Opera, Elisa Monte, Christopher Williams, and many others. Since 2015 he has also collaborated regularly with Third Rail Projects, performing in and co-creating several of its productions. Justin studied piano at the Royal College of Music in London and Boston University, graduating summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in music before earning a law degree at Columbia University. He leads a double life as a lawyer for creative artists. (Photo: Berette Macaulay)

Cassandra Trenary

CASSANDRA TRENARY (Guest Dancer, State of Darkness) began her dance training in Lawrenceville Georgia at Lawrenceville School of Ballet. After attending American Ballet Theater summer intensives as a National Training Scholar for several years she joined the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School at ABT in 2009. In 2011, she joined ABT as an Apprentice and rose through the ranks to Principal Dancer in 2020. Cassandra’s accolades include being named a National YoungArts Foundation Winner (2011), a Princess Grace Dance Honorarium recipient (2015) and Trenary was honored to receive the final Annenberg Fellowship for Dance (2017). She has danced and created many roles throughout her career at ABT as well as independent projects of her own in theater, dance and film. In 2020, Joyce Theater Productions produced Molissa Fenley's State of Darkness and included Cassandra in the list of dancers to take on the iconic solo. It's one of the most rewarding processes and performances of her career and she has continued to collaborate and dance with Molissa for the last few years (Pipes Going Nowhere). Photo: Art Davison, 2020

Michael Trusnovec

Hailed by the New York Times as “one of the world’s most luminous dancers,” MICHAEL TRUSNOVEC (Guest Dancer, State of Darkness; Etruscan Matisse/Blake; In the Garden (with Ryuichi) was a Principal Dancer with the Paul Taylor Dance Company from 1998-2019 performing in works by Mr. Taylor, as well as by Pam Tanowitz, Brian Arias, Margie Gillis, Doug Varone and more. Additionally, he was Associate Rehearsal Director
and served as the Director of Worldwide Licensing. Michael received a 2018 Dance Magazine Award, a 2006 Bessie Award, and was a 1992 YoungArts awardee and Presidential Scholar in the Arts. He is co-founder of the Asbury Park Dance Festival, co-curator of the Dance on Camera Festival and continues to stage Mr. Taylor’s dances, teach, and perform, most recently in the Joyce Theater Productions presentation of Molissa Fenley’s State of Darkness, New York 2020-21 and at The American Dance Festival, summer 2022; and in New York City Ballet’s 2020 Lincoln Center performances of George Balanchine’s Episodes. Michael currently serves as the Dance Co- Director for The Metropolitan Opera. Photo: Mohamed Sedak, 2021

Timothy Ward

TIMOTHY WARD grew up in Abita Springs, LA, graduated from high school at New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, and subsequently earned a BFA in dance at the Juilliard School. He was a member of the final Merce Cunningham Repertory Understudy Group and has since performed Merce’s work with the Brooklyn Ballet, New York Theater Ballet, and most recently at Montclair State University staged by Mandy Salva. In the last year, Tim danced for Pat Catterson, Fadi J Koury, Julia Gleich, Douglas Dunn, Yvonne Rainer and Molissa Fenley. Tim also teaches Cunningham Technique® at Rutgers University, serves drinks at Barracuda Lounge, and works at Live Live & Organic. 

Alyssa Wilmot

Alyssa Wilmot, Assistant to Molissa Fenley, Former Company member began her studies with Molissa as a graduate student at Mills College. Alyssa received her BA in Philosophy, Dance and Political Science from The College of Wooster, and an MFA in Dance Choreography and Performance from Mills College. Alyssa holds numerous Pilates and fitness certifications and owns and operates The Movement Factory in Cleveland, Ohio. She is an adjunct professor of Dance at Cuyahoga Community College and has been a faculty member and a visiting artist at a variety of colleges, universities, and performance spaces, and has performed and presented work nationally and internationally. Alyssa has served as Molissa Fenley's assistant since 2010 and performed with Molissa Fenley and Company from 2002-2011.


Walker Art Center
April 27-September 8, 2024
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Marble House Project
May 28-June 18, 2024
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Chautauqua Institution
August 17, 2024, 8:15pm
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Redwood Park (Part 2)

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