Molissa Fenley's solo show is abstract and inaccessible

June 07, 1993|By J. L. Conklin | J. L. Conklin,Contributing Writer

There are choreographers who will bend over backward to make their works accessible and audience-friendly. New York choreographer Molissa Fenley is not that type of choreographer or performer.

Her three solo works, performed Saturday evening at the Baltimore Museum of Art as the final installment in the "Off the Walls" series, required stamina -- not only from the performer but also from the audience. Her dances are not the kind you can mindlessly slip into; they are abstract, often frustratingly so, and require attention.

But the question is whether what she is doing is worth attention. Ms. Fenley places the same rigorous demands on her audience as she does on herself, but her aesthetics aren't always necessarily worth the effort. Sometimes interesting, sometimes banal, sometimes layered with pseudo-intellectualism, her dances intentionally batter standard choreographic principles. But without a summation or a clear sense of direction, I often felt simply stranded.

Ms. Fenley has incorporated sculpture into her works to help take up the visual slack. (An evening of solo work is the most difficult challenge for any performer.) Her opening dance, "Nullarbor," contained Richard Long's serpentine arrangement of smooth stones that delineated the space; "Channel" incorporated a suspended inner tube and carapace-like object by artist Richard Serra; and "Witches' Float" contained four life-sized castings of female nude figures by visual artist Kiki Smith. However intriguing, it lacked emotional resonance.

"Nullarbor," with its saturated activity to the percussion score by Robert Lloyd, created the illusion of spatial abundance. Each rapid-fire gesture, whether it was the sharp twist of her arms, the flash of a kick or a sinuous wiggle that mimicked the design in the stones, was given equal dramatic weight. This de-emphasis was distancing, and instead of being drawn into the dance, one struggled with it.

In sharp contrast to the hyperactivity of "Nullarbor" was "Channel." Here, Ms. Fenley often seemed suspended in time, like Mr. Serra's inner tube that hung over the center of the stage. "Witches' Float" created a supernatural atmosphere with its population of floating figures. An emotionally true moment occurred when Ms. Fenley approached the standing figure and shook her head as if being told a terrible secret.

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