Paradox produces magic in 'Water on the Moon'


November 19, 1990|By J.L. Conklin

Take one part Japanese theatrical tradition and one part performance art, mix in superb lighting and music, and throw in a -- of pure magic and you've got the basic ingredients for Maureen Fleming's one-woman show "Water on the Moon" that drew a mostly appreciative response before audiences at the Baltimore Museum of Art this weekend.

Ms. Fleming was born and raised in Japan, and gives more than a nod to Japanese theatrical elements. While her hour-long performance -- part of the BMA's Dance on the Edge series -- contained recognizable elements of Kabuki and Noh, the work is a universal experience that maintains its own integrity.

"Water on the Moon," a work the program said is a "constantly evolving performance," was full of contradictions. Beautiful and ugly, tender and violent, simple and profound -- its images struck deep emotional chords. The structure was episodic and each episode had a climate of dramatic tension; they could be seen independently or as a whole process.

In the first section, under the soft glow of a white spotlight, Ms. Fleming stood in profile on a short pedestal in a pool of water that reflected her nude body. A mythic goddess, she slowly raised her arms overhead, then twisted her torso as the pool reflected her image.

With expertly controlled action, she arched her back into a deep back bend, then lowered herself to recline. Her body became abstracted, pure form like a Henry Moore sculpture. Our Western attention span ached, but we were compelled by the beauty of the images.

She crouched, then imperceptively raised herself to stand. It was like watching a moon rise over a lake -- simple, eloquent and beautiful.

Ms. Fleming's unhurried drama was a paradox. The eye-pleasing lines of her legs terminated in sickle feet, the smooth curve of her back was destroyed by the odd angle of her head. At times she looked like a piece of broken porcelain, her mouth opened in a silent cry or her body shook in a violent eruption. Images of youth and beauty, age and infirmity passed in front of our eyes.

The lighting design by Howard Theis and the evocative music by Mickey Hart deftly formulated an atmosphere of suspense. Ms. Fleming is a master chameleon, with the uncanny ability to alter her shape and our perceptions. "Water on the Moon," like the sayings of Zen masters, is and is not about the moon.

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