When I saw Molissa Fenley’s quartet Mix at the Kitchen in 1979, I was struck by its tight space patterns, handclaps, and springy, audible footsteps. It was less adamant than folk dance, warmer than ritual. Beginning in the late 1980s, when she choreographed primarily solos, her repeating, ongoing traveling steps and the smooth, sinewy muscularity with which her arms and torso carved the space gave her the air of a hero weathering an ordeal with grace and ardor.
In two different programs at the Kitchen, Fenley celebrates turning 50, with over 50 works behind her. In Water Courses, Kuro Shio (both 2003), and the new Lava Field, Ashley Brunning, Tessa Chandler, Wanjiru Kamuyu, Cassie Mey, Paz Tanjuaquio, and Fenley extend their limbs further into space. Except in the swift, foot-nimble patterns of Water Courses, the choreography allows more breathing pauses. Kuro Shio adopts a measured tempo in accord with Bun-Ching Lam’s lovely, spare music, and the dancers move through pairings, canons, and interweavings like members of a serene commune.
John Bischoff’s fine Piano 7hz, which accompanies Lava Field, is spare and erratic, and the subtly tender relationship among Brunning, Fenley, Kamuyu, and Tanjuaquio as quietly changeable as their shot-silk skirts by Khadda and David Moodey’s mystical lighting. Sometimes the women simply run to sweep into a pose. Sometimes they’re dancing different parts of the same phrase; at other times, they meet and hold hands. At one striking moment, three lie in a rectangle of pink light and rest their heads on one another. The interplay of flow and stasis-within-flow is beautiful—pressured, charged, yet calm. Happy 50th, Molissa!
Not everyone at the opening of NYCity Center’s ingeniously programmed, $10-a-seat, sold-out Fall for Dance festival may have realized how auspiciously the evening began. George Balanchine’s great 1957 Agon, here scrupulously performed by Dance Theatre of Harlem, had its premiere on this stage with DTH’s director, Arthur Mitchell, in a leading role.
After that, all hell—or heaven—broke loose in Continuous Replay. A horde of Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company members, past and present, plus a who’s who of their downtown-dance friends, all initially naked, streaked across the stage, gradually joining Erick Montes, who led the repeating, accumulating phrase choreographed by Zane in 1977. Lawrence Goldhuber! Seán Curran! Heidi Latsky and her teensy daughter Charlotte! That a shred of Beethoven’s heroic Ninth surfaced near the end in Daniel Bernard Roumain’s tape mix seemed entirely fitting.
The festival embraced all forms. The first two nights, spectators were treated to finely executed works by major modern dance choreographers: Merce Cunningham’s witty and athletic How to Pass, Kick, Fall and Run and Martha Graham’s Embattled Garden. Cunningham’s piece was preceded by a more up-front athleticism: Elizabeth Streb’s people flying off a trampoline in Wild Blue Yonder—sometimes, daringly, three at a time—and crashing against a Plexiglas wall in Ricochet. Graham’s Dangerous Liaisons–meets-Genesis work yielded to Eileen Thomas and Mark DeChiazza, suspended and swinging in blissful embraces in Susan Marshall’s Kiss.
Tuesday, for street smarts, we got Dose, with David Neumann stumbling and veering hopefully, in sync with Tom Waits’s crazy-quilt song of ad pitches. Wednesday, it was excerpts from Montreal-based Rubberbanddance Group’s Elastic Perspective, a mostly ingenious mixture by choreographer-dancer Victor Quijada of hip-hop, contemporary dance, and drama to both classical and rap music. Prokofiev’s sinister Capulet ball theme from Romeo and Juliet works amazingly well with Joe Danny Aurelian, Jayko Eloi, Emmanuelle Le Phan, Anne Plamondon, and Quijada’s weighted, dug-in style and the mix of toughness and humor with tenderness.
Excerpts from Sara Pearson and Patrik Widrig’s earthy Ordinary Festivals created a sage, nutty Italian village romp for 16 performers and 300 oranges. And the evening ended with another Latin celebration: the thrilling, dark-souled Solea of Noche Flamenca’s incomparable Soledad Barrio, incited by three guitarists, a cante jondo singer, and three men (including choreographer-director Martin Santangelo) clapping Barrio’s heartbeat.