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Music and Dance Reviews : Molissa Fenley Gives the 'Rite' Stuff in San Diego
Lewis Segal, The Los Angeles Times
November 20, 1989

SAN DIEGO — On stage at the Spreckels Theatre Friday night, Molissa Fenley danced an unprecedented solo to Stravinsky's "Le Sacre du Printemps"--all 35 minutes of it.

The title is "State of Darkness," and there's no plot, but this is definitely the "Rite" stuff: a woman pushing herself to the limit under harsh overhead light, another sacrifice to the most unyielding dance music ever composed. Her accompaniment: the Dorati/Detroit Symphony recording.

Like the Chosen Maiden in the original 1913 ballet by Vaslav Nijinsky, Fenley shudders and flinches under the weight of the score and flings herself against its rhythms heroically. In the more subdued passages, however, she unclenches, allowing the music to wash over her as she seems to intuitively summon new resources for the ordeal.

Tiny, close-cropped and bare-chested, Fenley looks very vulnerable indeed: no Superwoman, no Earth-Mother. But she's still standing at the end, she endures. And that's the point. The 1913 Chosen Maiden was a victim; her 1988 counterpart survived--battered, certainly, but unbroken.

Just as Nijinsky's "Sacre" inaugurated modernism in dance, "State of Darkness" has arguably set the seal on a whole era of brutal post-modern athleticism: the cult of force and stamina in which Fenley was undoubtedly the Chosen Maiden. Now 34, she has made something like the ultimate statement of indomitable womanhood and moved on to new priorities.

Two recent solos on the Spreckels program (presented by the Sushi Performance Gallery) reveal a Fenley absorbed in modulation, in lush, almost Mannerist port de bras and a mood of deep loss. Seldom in Fenley's generation has a solo artist so strongly conveyed a feeling of overwhelming isolation.

In "The Floor Dances--Requiem for the Living" (music by Mikolaj Gorecki), she never stands up, but--kneeling, squatting and reclining within a circle of stones--resourcefully explores blocked paths and a deliberately limited movement range.

Set to piano music by Philip Glass, "Provenance Unknown" subjects its formal motifs to a process of erosion. Turns with outstretched arms or (ice-skating style) with hands behind the back, for example, become progressively skeletal and fragmentary as the pace accelerates. Familiar contours crumble and Fenley looks very much alone at the end, turning in the gathering dark.

Sensitive lighting designs by David Moodey complemented the choreography and dancing in this remarkable program. No other Southern California performances have been announced.

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