Molissa Fenley and Friends

March 26, 2010

“Molissa Fenley and Friends”
Harkness Dance Festival

92nd Street Y, NYC

March 26–28, 2010

Reviewed by Siobhan Burke

Fred Bendongué and Nora Chipaumire in
Silence and Dreams. Photo by Julie Lemberger, Courtesy Harkness Dance Festival.


For the final weekend of the Harkness Dance Festival, veteran modern dancer/choreographer Molissa Fenley invited three colleagues to present work alongside her two premieres. Despite their shared roots (Paz Tanjuaquio and Nora Chipaumire danced in Fenley’s company; Penny Hutchinson is her former mentee), the mixed bill was a study in contrasts—between dance that seems bound by a set of rules and that which carves out its own unpredictable world.

The world of Silence and Dreams, choreographed and performed by Chipaumire and Fred Bendongué, thrummed with dark, precarious beauty. Nothing particularly violent happened here, but you felt as though it could at any moment. Laurent Grappe’s score, pivotal to the mood, layered Jimi Hendrix and African jazz with ominous shattering, beeping, and scratching sounds. Red and pink carnations, which Chipaumire arranged on the ground with ceremonial attention, became fraught symbols, objects to be both rejected and craved: A recurring gesture had the dancers cradling a flower in the crease of one elbow, deeply inhaling its scent, then whisking head and bent arm in opposite directions, letting the emblem of desire drop to the floor.

Whether snaking along the ground, erupting into ripples and shudders, or considering their surroundings in stillness, both performers were arresting; in the close quarters of Buttenweiser Hall, one felt immersed in their time and place.


The intensity of Silence, which closed the evening, only underscored the tameness of what had come before. Penny Hutchinson’s duet Standing Anywhere and her Rhubarb Crisp, a solo, seemed like overwrought classroom exercises, too hemmed in by their own structure. Fenley’s Double Beginning, a quartet for herself, Katie McGreevy, Cassie Mey, and poet Bob Holman, had a pleasant elegance. As Holman read from a long scroll, his verse occasionally aligned with the ballet-inflected choreography: “hands placed overhead, a shaking leaf.” But for the most part, the dancing felt stiff against the husky, playful intonations of his voice. A similar formality presided over Fenley’s trio 94 Feathers, despite Merrill Wagner’s whimsical props—small platforms sprouting multicolored feathers, a delicate metal cage. Both of Fenley’s works, however, made lovely vehicles for the long-limbed Mey, who stood out for her calm focus and fluid strength.

Also tame, but not so uptight, was Tanjuaquio’s meditative duet The Divide. A river of silver fabric ran down the center of the room, as Tanjuaquio and Chia Ying Kao, one on either side, drifted through space with propeller-like arms on top of supple spines, hips, and knees. We had just seen these dancers in Todd Richmond’s short film Fulcrum, their images superimposed on natural and urban landscapes, sailing across treetops and city streets. Watching them live in The Divide was, for a minute, like seeing spirits in the flesh.