New York

Molissa Fenley

Joyce Theater

When Molissa Fenley collapsed from a severe knee injury on the opening night of her season at the Joyce Theater and was forced to cancel all remaining shows, she was midway into a solo rendition of her work Bridge of Dreams, 1994, performed just six months earlier by dancers of the Deutsche Oper Ballet in Berlin. Because of the expenses involved in bringing members of the company to New York, Fenley had stoically resolved to present a solo version of this work instead. For those who had seen the Berlin performance of Bridge of Dreams, however, the absence of the other dancers infused her solo with a poignant sense of loss, despite the richness of the choreography.

Known primarily for her pioneering work as a solo performer, Fenley created a ballet whose density had all the detail of a miniature painting and all the expansive energy of a Jackson Pollock. Bridge of Dreams was divided into five parts, each separated from the other by raising Kiki Smith’s vividly painted backdrops successively, increasing the depth of the stage. In the beginning of the Berlin performance, eight dancers moved laterally along a slither of performance space that was only ten feet deep; by the end, the stage had become a vast field that could accommodate 21 dancers. Singly, in pairs, in trios, and in larger groups, the dancers performed seemingly separate ballets in different sections of the stage, miraculously matching arm and feet positions at various points throughout the 25-minute work. At certain moments, the dancing slowed to a Noh-like pace as if to embody the dreamy quality of the title. Laurie Anderson’s compositions created distinctive moods for each part: electric violins provided a romantic edge to one dance motif, while the low wailing sound lent another section an underwater eeriness.

Before her injury Fenley performed several works that were quite different in mood and design. In the four-and-a-half minute gem Tilliboyo, 1993, Fenley’s body seemed positively driven by the lush African sounds of Gambian composer Faday Musa Suso. Jalan Jalan, 1994, choreographed for a concert in Jakarta, viscerally engaged Lou Harrison’s score with its emphasis on gamelan percussion and French horn. Presented back to back, these two pieces reflected the hybridity of Fenley’s own interests; Tilliboyo, for example, recalled Fenley’s childhood in Africa—an experience that underlies her impetus to include non-Western movement in her choreography.

Sita, 1995, danced to Philip Glass’ piano études, took place against a three-screen backdrop onto which black and white photographs by Sandi Fellman were projected. The blurred, swirling shapes—stills of Fenley’s performances—evoked a stage filled with dancers, making one long for more large-scale works in the future.

RoseLee Goldberg