Theater archives

Uncharted Terrain


Molissa Fenley’s solos often seem to be about terrain: its impact on her spirit, the impression she leaves upon it. Maybe this is because she not only covers ground, she examines it and the space above. Where her early choreography was intensely repetitive, her mature work follows a winding trail with only a few reiterated landmarks.

Fenley is small, long-bodied, and strong. She dances with precision, but a lack of conventional finesse is part of her image—the athlete who thrives on ordeal. She doesn’t so much lift a leg as swoop it up; angles and curves marry in her smooth, muscular adventures: one hip juts out at the same time that her spine curls in. Working close to the earth, knees often bent, wrists flexed and pressing the air, she can look elfish, but—arms wreathing about her or floating upward—she also shows an appetite for soaring.

Her program feels too long by one dance. I was most engrossed by the beautiful new Weathering, performed in silence amid Merrill Wagner’s leather and cloth strips—piled or hanging like strange garments. Fenley pauses often, basking on the floor, pensive, gently elated. Provenance Unknown (1989) suggests spiritual uplift even more. Fenley increases speed and range as Philip Glass’s music escalates. Written for piano, his Metamorphosis acquires a startling sensuality when played by Joan Jeanrenaud on the cello (part live, part taped).

The 1998 On the Other Ocean has been redesigned as a quartet for Kerry Ring, Paz Tanjuaquio, Heather Waldon, and Meg Wolfe. Their forays into counterpoint enliven a tidal texture rendered slightly soporific by David Behrman’s sweet music. Foofwa d’Imobilité performed Island the first week. The incisiveness of his legs always astonishes me. His kicks and changes of direction as he prowls are like knife flicks countering the rich fullness with which he molds the air. Dancing beside Carol Hepper’s gorgeous hanging panel of small iridescent slabs, to flutist Patty Monson’s virtuosic rendering of Harold Meltzer’s score, and bathed in David Moodey’s splendid lighting, he’s a peacock in the wild.

Transporting Downtown dance to the Upper West Side should attract a new I-can-walk-there audience. And the refurbished Symphony Space looks better than it has in years—a decent proscenium showcase for the three diverse choreographers featured in “Triple Play Dance,” the first spring series (another comes up in April).

Wheelable panels designed by Sue Rees for Terry Creach’s A History of Private Life create a shifting array of translucent rooms where six men (Maurice Fraga, Olase Freeman, Paul Matteson, Lionel Popkin, Raymond Robison, and Peter Schmitz) come and go about their business. Two study each other across a table. A third pauses and stares. Four congregate. Their “conversation”—as is usual with Creach/Company—often takes the form of athletic partnering. But whether the men are vaulting and sliding into intricate patterns of give and take, or reaching out a tentative hand, the intimacy of their contact is offset by their thoughtfulness. A somersault onto someone’s shoulders becomes as matter-of-fact as saying, “Hey, want to go fishing?” An embrace is a handshake fulfilled.

In Gray Study, Gus Solomons jr’s latest work for himself, Carmen de Lavallade, and Dudley Williams, the three are also profoundly aware of their private worlds and of one another, but, unlike Creach’s men, they never touch. Pacing in long dark overcoats (Eva Tsug’s concept, Nancy L. Johnson’s design), they interweave scrupulously, guardedly. As voices in Judith Ren-Lay’s score begin to swirl around them, they reveal the bright-colored linings of their coats and indulge in dreams; de Lavallade’s maybe a queen, and Williams suddenly resembles a bird. At the end, they’ve reached some ritualistic accord, happy and a little crazed, circling together. Even in unison, these superb mature performers are potent individuals.

There’s pondering in Doug Elkins’s Last Train to Philly too—more than is usual with dances where formal strategies mate hip-hop, martial arts, and more traditional dancing. People hang out on chairs, glum or silently talkative, as if this were a station waiting room (albeit one that features John Coltrane, the O’Jays, et al.). Brian Caggiano and Kristen Daley watch and chat while Fritha Pengelly dances with Tony Agostinelli, who’s been nursing a water bottle. Luis Tentindo and Rebecca Chisman meet and decide to leave together. When people get up to dance, they’re, in a sense, catching the train—lively, smart, getting down, showing their stuff, letting the music tickle them. The work feels somehow unfinished, but it’s a fine end to a good evening.

One of the best things about Movement Research’s free, no-frills Mondays at Judson Church (through May 22) is the unusual pairings of artists. In a solo for a projected full-evening work, Foofwa d’Imobilité is all rippling tension, startling bursts of ballet virtuosity, and feverish vocal repetitions. After a short pause, Simone Forti comes out and sinks into the floor as if it were warm beach sand, as tensionless as a sleeping lioness.

Occasionally repeating words heard on tape—curious tales and directives—d’Imobilité punctiliously fills the space with patterns; first he crosses it, jerking and quivering uncannily with every lunge or reaching foot, then runs in a Groucho Marx crouch almost to his starting point. But the more expansive he gets, the closer to us he comes. Then he begins a slower, more sinuous pattern that travels forward and back. Along the way he acquires a kilt and a velvet jacket, and—now James in La Sylphide—delivers some extraordinary Bournonville-style beats and leaps in attitude. He asks us what he should keep and what discard. I cannot tell you what he’s doing—chalk it all up to deconstruction of “performance”—but watching him do it is thrilling.

Forti, who performed in this church when it first became a home for dance in the ’60s, brought a clutch of women to join her in a three-part improvisation. In the process she calls Logomotion, words and movements express almost simultaneously what the senses pick up. The women are sensitive in this kind of free association, but Forti—alone and in a close-weaving duet with kindred improviser Carmela Hermann—is matchless.

Gray-haired, soft-bodied, pliant, Forti’s part earth mother, part innocent, part sophisticated wit. Riffing on words lifted from the dictionary and whatever else crosses her fertile mind, she dances-talks on, say, the deliciousness of fish heads. She feels her way into the shapes and processes she talks of, groping for the word, the feeling. Cells split, and her body stretches in two directions. Always herself, the observer, she also becomes the groundwater she describes as it oozes through flattened leaves.