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Movement With Mystery and Efficient Athleticism
Molissa Fenley at The Joyce Theater 2007
Claudia La Rocco, New York Times
December 13, 2007

 Many dancers have walked slowly across many stages, their faces bathed in a slanting light, their eyes focused on a middle distance. The viewer’s imagination rushes toward whatever unseen entity the dancer approaches: a lover, an uncertain future, death.

The choreographer Molissa Fenley took such a walk on Tuesday night at the Joyce Theater, where her company is celebrating 30 years of existence with two programs this week. But there was no sense of an approach toward an external object or desire. If Ms. Fenley moves toward anything, it is an inner self, an unshaken purpose; the arrow shot from the bow does not seek its mark.

She had fine accompaniment for such a meditative practice: Philip Glass, who was an opening-night guest, performing onstage for two of the program’s three dances. In “Dreaming Awake,” billed as a New York premiere set to Mr. Glass’s composition of that same name, her movements were juxtaposed against those of Katie McGreevy and Cassie Mey, handsome dancers who moved primarily in conversation with each other but always in relation to Ms. Fenley, like ladies in waiting occupying themselves with their own games while their mistress lends herself to a mysterious task.

But in “Provenance Unknown,” a 1989 work revised in 2006 and set to Mr. Glass’s “Metamorphosis,” Ms. Fenley was mostly alone; she periodically paused near the still bulk of the piano as if acknowledging a kindred spirit. It was a duet, in the best sense.

“Calculus and Politics,” a premiere for an ensemble of seven (Ms. Fenley does not appear), is set to Harry Partch’s “Castor and Pollux” (1952). Mr. Partch’s quirky, propulsive world leads the imagination to wonderfully strange places, but Ms. Fenley’s formal, reductive sensibility was less at home here. The small swan props inserted into the dance’s ceaseless patterns seemed an inadequately realized addition, as curious as the jump rope briefly brought into play.

Perhaps the rope was a nod to Ms. Fenley’s long-famed athleticism. She is a compact, economical dancer whose stamina and boyish frame belie her 53 years. No emoting, no lyricism: These qualities seem wasteful, somehow, when put against her assertive, deft leg extensions; her small traveling hops; or the beveled planes of her hands as they slice neatly through the air above her head.

Such a self-contained performer does not approach the audience. The viewer moves forward, or not, into the curious middle distance of this remote yet oddly captivating choreographer.

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