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Injury Fells a Dancer In Mid-Solo
Anna Kisselgoff, The New York Times
January 26, 1995

Molissa Fenley was dancing the last of the three premieres she choreographed for her opening on Tuesday night at the Joyce Theater when she collapsed and folded up, lying with her back to the audience.

A stagehand ran out of the wings and the curtain came down. The performance did not continue and the rest of the season, scheduled through Sunday, has been canceled. Ms. Fenley suffered "an acute cartilage and ligament injury to her left knee," said Dr. Donald J. Rose.

It was the kind of pain that every dancer dreads, often because it strikes without warning. Ms. Fenley, an experimental choreographer and dancer, had in fact danced splendidly and vigorously through two and one-half of her new solos. The program's unperformed piece, "Witches' Float," was seen here in 1993.

"Sita," the first solo, continues Ms. Fenley's highly compatible work with the composer Philip Glass, who has occasionally played at her performances. On this occasion, the pianist was Martin Goldray, who impressively brought out a reflective lyricism in four of Mr. Glass's "Etudes for Piano" (Nos. 2-5).

Ms. Fenley's interaction with her music is a given. But her dancing here was also directly related to a series of changing photographs by Sandi Fellman, projected on three panels behind her. These are blurred and enlarged white close-ups of Ms. Fenley's body, made to look like abstract shapes. Sometimes they refer directly to the dancer's movements. A skeletal photo-image of Ms. Fenley's fingers drew attention to a moment when her hands, flexing and rotating through space, had more to do than usual.

To the untutored eye, the solos on this program might look alike, mainly because Ms. Fenley has pared down her essential vocabulary. There are, nonetheless, subtle differences in the movement. The look of each piece is dramatically affected by Ms. Fenley's response to different music and by her polished production values: lighting, costume and occasional decor.

Lately, her interest in Asian art has led her into some meditative pieces. "Sita," named after a Hindu goddess, has her typical purity. Ms. Fellman's photographs sometimes resemble X-rays; Ms. Fenley's choreography seems to search for a bare-bones spiritual essence.

The search goes on perhaps too long. Each of the four sections has a dominant movement motif, but lack of variety sets in. Ms. Fenley, in a cherry red tunic and tights, gets away with it all because she is a fascinating dancer. David Moodey's vivid lighting sets off her cursive style, full of curlicues stemming from her highly active torso and constantly moving arms. Feet, by contrast, are used more for propulsion and weight shifting than for shape.

The dancing is taut, not soft, and the arms have a hyperextended look. The last two sections stress Ms. Fenley's amazingly high releve, the way she rises on the balls of her feet. At the end, she comes to rest in one of her Indian sculpture poses, hip thrust to one side and knee bent to the other.

"Tilliboyo/Jalan Jalan" channels the same swinging arms, flicking wrists and controlled abandon into a more lively diversion. The bouncy "Tilliboyo" solo, with music by the Gambian composer Foday Musa Suso, is defined by jaunty clarity. Angela Wendt's streamlined costume leaves Ms. Fenley with one shoulder bare, and the corresponding arm is frequently extended. "Jalan/Jalan," the second part, is a solo to Lou Harrison's "Main Bersama-Sama" for gamelan percussion and French horn. The movement is plush, embroidered with turns and circling runs.

Although Ms. Fenley's injury kept her from completing the last premiere, "Bridge of Dreams," the insistent rhythm and metallic resonance of Laurie Anderson's electronic score promised one of Ms. Fenley's inventive propulsive dances. Gabriel Berry's wrap-around white skirt with a red lining accented the flurry of V-shaped jumps in this witchlike solo. The emotional expressionist streak underlying Ms. Fenley's surface minimalism comes to the fore here. The solo is derived from a group work she created earlier for the Berlin Opera Ballet. As such, it evokes a tribute to Mary Wigman, the German dance pioneer known for her own witch solos.

Photo: Molissa Fenley in "Sita" before she collapsed with a knee injury. (Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)

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