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Molissa Fenley on Over 40 Years of Dance Making and her Company's Upcoming "Their Mark" Program

Molissa Fenley on Over 40 Years of Dance Making and her Company's Upcoming "Their Mark" Program
Trina Mannino/Follow @Trinamannino on Twitter

By Trina Mannino/Follow @Trinamannino on Twitter
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Published on June 20, 2018
Photo: Molissa Fenley; Arturo Bejar

Molissa Fenley and Company presents Their Mark, an evening of new dance and new music

Danspace Project as part of Community ACCESS 

June 21–23, 2018

Dancers: Jared Brown, Elizabeth Cooper, Holley Farmer, Giada Ferrone, Kristen Foote, Ananda Gonzalez, India Gonzalez, and Timothy Ward. Music will performed live: Frank Cassara and Ralph Farris.

Lighting design is by Fenley’s longtime collaborator David Moodey.

Tickets: $22 / / 866-811-4111

Choreographer Molissa Fenley has made 85 dances since her first evening-length work Planets at the age of twenty-two. And she shows no signs of stopping. This month, the choreographer shares Their Mark, an evening of new dance and new music, a program that melds Fenley’s past with the present.

Fenley’s preoccupation with her primordial works is part curiosity, part preservation of her personal history. Energizer (1980, revived in 2013), Witches’ Float (1993, revived in 2013), and Hemispheres (1983, revived in 2004), to name a few, are pieces she’s returned to over the years. “If work isn’t danced, it sits in a video box on the shelf . . . I find it interesting to be the age that I am to physically embody something I’ve made many years ago,” says Fenley after a recent rehearsal at Mark Morris Dance Center.


Their Mark includes an abbreviated version of one of her earliest dances Mix (1979). Though it’s been nearly 40 years since Mix’s premiere, Fenley has found the reconstruction process illuminating. “I’m discovering a thread of vocabulary that I established early on in my career,” she says. “It has to do with the spiral of the upper body. There’s a lot of spatial constructs. At times, the work has a lot to do with speed and getting through space very quickly.”

In a washed-out video of the original cast (Fenley was joined by Elizabeth Streb, Kate McLaughlin, and John Bernd), they hop and bounce while clapping for nearly 50 minutes in The Kitchen’s old loft space. Taking simple ideas and exploring them to their fullest is a hallmark of Fenley’s physically rigorous dances. They look simple. Yet they’re multilayered tongue twisters for the body and mind.

Molissa Fenley and three dancers stand in a circle with their arms stretched above their heads. She wears jeans and colorful patterned shirts.
this is a photo credit

In a rehearsal for The Pattern of the Surface, part of the larger work Water Table, many of these ideas are rendered on four women and two men. The dance, inspired by “a large body of water, its depth reflected by the shades of color,” is a moving hexagon with serpentine couplings that weave in and out of sync. Angular arms that resemble goal posts and Egyptian hieroglyphics are married to legs that arrive in balletic emboîtés and arabesques, only to be swept away to take on new shapes and rhythms. It’s like watching an artist smudge the lines and distinct shapes created by pastels into softer, muddier hues.

Accompanying Water Table is live music by percussionist Frank Cassara and violist Ralph Farris, who will play a series of scores by different living composers, including Armenian Tigran Mansurian. Fenley doesn’t have formal music training, but considers herself a fastidious listener. Over the years, scores have served as ambient texture, which allows her dancers to “work with less specificity from moment to moment.” In dances like The Pattern of the Surface, the music functions as another performer, a metric guide that the dancers live and play within.

Molissa Fenley in a red shirt outstretches her arm toward violist Ralph Farris. Drummer Frank Cassara smiles.
Molissa Fenley, Frank Cassara and Ralph Farris: Photo: Roy Fowler, 2018

While Mix and Water Table are abstract works, there’s humanism in both. In the 1979 video, Fenley and her cast smirk and smile as they jump in and out of keeping the work tethered to the beat. During Water Table, the dancers peer at one another, partly as a means of staying together, but also because there is a communal sense of reverence and joy for the form. “I always feel my work is about love,” says Fenley. “Love of nature, of person, of music, of the people you’re doing it with.”

That love is what keeps the 63-year-old choreographer going. She says, “That feeling has never waned. It’s with happiness I come to rehearsal, and it’s with happiness to be involved with this on a daily basis.”

The Dance Enthusiast Covers The Stories Behind Dance Performance, Speaking with Artists and Creating Conversation
For more Behind-the-Scenes Stories of the NYC Dance World Click on our Day In The Life of Dance Section, including our 2013 Dance Up Close Feature with Molissa Fenley










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