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Her Ruthless Geometries
Dance Review | Molissa Fenley and Company
Claudia La Rocco, The New York Times
© New York Times
September 20, 2009

Photo © Erin Baiano for The New York Times

Devotion. Austerity. Intent. During an evening with Molissa Fenley’s coiled, concentrated dancing, certain words plant themselves in your brain. There is a stillness about her work and a heft that demand a particular type of attention.

This is not to say her choreography lacks wit or whimsy, both in terms of small touches tucked into seemingly severe architecture and her choice of artistic partners. Athletes of God have their quirks too.

On Thursday night at Judson Memorial Church, a program of new works by Molissa Fenley and Company opened with a collaboration between the choreographer and Bob Holman, the mischievous provocateur behind the Bowery Poetry Club. “Ice, Dew, Food, Crew, Ape” presents the same choreography twice: first to a recording of Alvin Curran’s score of the same name, featuring John Cage reciting those five words over a ship horn, then with Mr. Holman reading from a long scroll amid the eight black-clad dancers.

He is an insouciant, messy presence, simultaneously emphasizing the dancers’ swift, scything patterns and reminding the viewer to look for the gentle moments those patterns reveal: clasped hands, barely-there smiles, strange and quick off-kilter little curves of the torso.

“You must dance the world’s giant dance,” Mr. Holman proclaims. And some of the most deeply centered and present company members, including Ms. Fenley, Cassie Mey and Paz Tanjuaquio, look like they could out-shoulder Atlas.

Others do not seem to possess the clarity and musical nuance required to bring this choreography into the sharpness of focus it needs to absorb the attention fully. Ms. Fenley, who founded her troupe in 1977, delights in the juxtaposition of stillness and speed. Swift turns, deft curvilinear arms and rapidly reconfiguring tableaus share time with deep, satisfying pliés and carefully poised relevés. A dancer needs both a devastating attack and an unshakable core to make these combinations sing.

And she needs to be fierce. In a gorgeous solo during “Cosmati Variations I-IV,” Ms. Mey seemed like a figure from an ancient pottery fragment come to life, dropping into weighty crouches or turning sharply on her heel, her long limbs spiraling out or up with an inner force.

In “Mass Balance,” a solo set to Cenk Ergun’s ominously thrumming “120408,” Ms. Fenley manipulated a long pole (designed by Todd Richmond), now advancing like a jouster, now angling it over her shoulder like the oarsman on the River Styx, now extending it in front of her at an angle, so that the pole, the floor and her perfectly held body formed a triangle in space.

It is a ruthless geometry Ms. Fenley is after, in which even lushly curving hands adhere to strict rules. Yet what possibilities bloom in that hushed, concentrated space. The imagination rushes in.

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