New York

Molissa Fenley

Joyce Theater

Molissa Fenley’s 1993 trilogy of intensely rich works placed new demands on both dancer and viewer. Elaborating on one of the ongoing themes of her work—that of dance as sculpture—Fenley devoted an entire evening to the relationship between her own body shapes and the objects and spaces of the three sculptors with whom she collaborated. Tatsuo Miyajima, Richard Long, and Richard Serra each designed a stage with distinctive spatial configurations that reflected a particular esthetic to which Fenley responded in kind. Despite the consistency of the pieces’ collective vocabulary of movement, the strong personalities of each artist added some interesting if perhaps unintended narratives that in turn altered the viewer’s reading of costumes and music, as well as of the movement itself.

In Sightings, a low-tech set designed by Miyajima was bathed in red light. With columns of evenly spaced numbers blinking rapidly along the back curtain, and projecting a three-dimensional grid into the space, the stage looked like an electronic burial ground. When Fenley, with her customary cropped hair, appeared in a brilliant-white, one-shoulder leotard with belted wrap, she evoked a narrative alien to her usual spiritual one. She looked part Olympic star, part astronaut, and even her rhythmically nodding head, straight back, and splayed fingers seemed to support the robotic theme. Moving across the gridded field of pale lights, she alternately emerged and disappeared—like a photographic image on developing paper. As a result, Fenley’s precise movement vocabulary was intermittently visible, and the electronic music by Pauline Oliveros further intensified the futuristic mood.

Nullarbor was otherworldly in an entirely different way. With its bright lighting and a minimal set by Richard Long—comprised of a meandering line of round black stones from upstage to down, about a third of the way in from the curtain—it suggested sun-drenched landscapes and a water’s edge. Celebratory gestures like those in a nature dance—arms outstretched in a V-shape, and legs bent low in second position, almost in a squat—were accompanied by an explosive drumming score by Australian composer Richard Lloyd. Back and forth, round in circles, up to but never crossing Long’s boundary, the dance was performed almost always in profile. Wearing blood-red leotard-shorts with gnarled straps that resembled vines, this ecstatic dancer created a piece that added to a growing group of works Fenley has created on the power of ritual that began with State of Darkness, 1988.

For the final work, Channel, Serra provided Fenley with two portable objects, most notably a large carapace, that was in fact a dried sturgeon skin, that she held across her chest, on her shoulder, or above her head. The shape and size of the object necessitated very slow, low movements. Also on stage were two musicians, playing a composition by Somei Satoh, whose decisive body movements as they bent over their unusual Japanese instruments became a strong feature of this meditative piece.

Last season’s performances suggested that Fenley sought far more than sets and backdrops from her artist-collaborators; she seemed instead to invite direct interference from them—of a kind that would force her to explore exciting new directions.

RoseLee Goldberg