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Dance Review; A Solo Influence in Group Works
Jack Anderson, The New York Times
January 18, 2002

There were times when watching Molissa Fenley and Dancers on Wednesday night was like watching passing clouds. Dancers often crossed the stage of the Joyce Theater while their arms and upper bodies twisted into choreographic shapes that kept melting away, just as clouds melt in the air.

Cloud watching can be soothing. It can also be lulling. So, too, some of Ms. Fenley's dances grew unduly placid.

In the past she has been a compelling solo performer. There were no solos on this program, part of the Altogether Different Festival. Nevertheless, she often treated dancers as isolated figures, showing little concern for complexities of group formations. And although it was clear that Ms. Fenley had deliberately restricted her choreographic vocabulary, she was not always able to work imaginatively within her self-imposed limitations.

She was at her most inventive in ''Pola'a,'' a duet devised last year based on a 1996 solo. Letting their arms float and drift through space, she and Peter Boal, a guest artist from the New York City Ballet, moved in an unhurried manner to a recorded score by Lou Harrison. Both performed similar steps. But part of the fascination of the duet was comparing Ms. Fenley's loose way of moving with Mr. Boal's crisper style.

The designs of Merrill Wagner and Evan Ayotte added to the visual appeal of ''331 Steps,'' a premiere to electronic music by Laetitia Sonami. Lesley Braithwaite, Paz Tanjuaquio and Ms. Fenley had long trains on their costumes, and those trains were attached to the back wall of the stage. As the women danced in a ceremonial manner, the fabric created its own moving patterns.

Theatrical ideas in other pieces looked undeveloped. Gliding through ''Delta,'' Ori Flomin, Ms. Tanjuaquio and Ms. Fenley kept exchanging a shiny white mask. Yet they never invested their actions with dramatic, emotional or symbolic impact.

Ms. Fenley combined two works in ''Short Stories,'' for a cast that included Nora Chipaumire, Linda Sastradipradja, Ms. Braithwaite, Ms. Tanjuaquio and Mr. Flomin. ''Hemispheres Finale'' (1983), to music by Anthony Davis, had some of the evening's most brisk and determined steps. ''Sky Garden,'' a premiere danced in silence, was fluid in style. Although it was easy to wonder what sort of tales Ms. Fenley was trying to tell, the contrasts between sharp and soft movements prevented ''Short Stories'' from drifting into amorphousness.

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