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Review/Dance; In 'State of Darkness,' a Dancer's Rite of Passage
Anna Kisselgoff, The New York Times
October 8, 1988

Photo © The New York TImes

Molissa Fenley's use of Stravinsky's ''Sacre du Printemps'' as music for a new dance solo succeeds beyond expectation. A dancer who has been unmatched on the experimental scene for her explosive, even primal, energy, Miss Fenley has found her true center here.

''State of Darkness,'' which was commissioned by the American Dance Festival in Durham, N.C., last summer and which Miss Fenley performs on a two-hour solo program through Monday at the Kitchen (512 West 19th Street), challenges the pounding rhythms of Stravinsky's music with contemporary originality and fervor.

We see Miss Fenley, a child of nature revealed at last under the veneer of aerobic fitness. Bare breasted in black tights, her boyish mannequin frame either aquiver or flung forward with centrifugal force, she acts out a rite of passage that opens itself to metaphor and interpretation at any level. As was obvious at Thursday night's opening, Miss Fenley gives us a new reading of the music.

The hints of fertility rituals and sacrifice of the original scenario are never literally rendered. No community sacrifices a virgin to the sun god to make the crops grow. Yet the tour de force of this 40-minute solo, performed remarkably with less sweat than stamina, suggests a giving of a dancer to herself, her public, her art.

The toplessness is not the provocation it might seem. Miss Fenley's style is natural, even self-absorbed, under David Moodey's lighting, which varies from warm glow to ice cold and ends with a chiaroscuro modeling after the musical and choreographic climax.

Nearly shorn as usual, her high cheek bones outlined in the light, Miss Fenley is the creature awakening, her torso quivering at the start until she shields her face. Highly expressive under the surface of abstraction, her choreography as usual banks on a mobile upper body. Her arms create a double-jointed shape as they move consistently from flattened triangles or winglike planes into splayed shields across the face.

Except for the turns, into which she whips with sudden ferocity, Miss Fenley favors movement that is more distorted than conventional in line. Deliberate repetition is one of her trademarks, but in this case the music leads her to use the same movement with evolutionary connotations.

She is a bird not yet ready to fly, an amphibian with a butterfly stroke at the ready, a momentarily wounded creature whose head drops toward her neck. She waddles, she scurries, she leaps, she lunges, she rotates elbows that plunge out of an invisible carapace. The turbulent passages of the music inspire an image of wildness that is nevertheless under control. Emotion is never described, only conveyed.

The second half finds her movement themes expanded, with more variation packed into each phrase. During the music for the sacrificial dance, her dancing seems to splatter. Then, taking a step forward, glaring at the audience, she comes to rest.

Although Miss Fenley has worked with a company of her own, it is clear that her movement, seemingly untidy but actually tightly contoured, is highly personalized.

In ''Provenance Unknown,'' commissioned by the Kitchen, Miss Fenley (accompanied by Alan Johnson's sophisticated piano playing of Philip Glass's ''Metamorphosis'') appears to be striking out in a new direction. In the calm of this dance, there is an unsuspected elegance, that of a Baroque dancer in a minuet. ''Second Sight,'' an excerpt from ''Eureka''(1982), opened the program.

A version of this article appears in print on , Section 1, Page 14 of the National edition with the headline: Review/Dance; In 'State of Darkness,' a Dancer's Rite of Passage.

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