In The Studio

Molissa Fenley on Climate Change and Dancing into Her 60s

Molissa Fenley and Holley Farmer watch as the company rehearses at NYU Tisch for their upcoming performances in NYC.

"We find ourselves in a situation now with global warming where extreme storms, hurricanes and rising sea levels are happening throughout parts the world, and water is scarce or wasted in others," says choreographer Molissa Fenley. A comment on the current global threats to our environment, Fenley's dance series Water Table explores the patterns of large bodies of water.

We stepped into a rehearsal of Water Table with Molissa Fenley and Company as they prepare for an upcoming show at Danspace Project to talk performing in your 60s and how an international upbringing influenced her as an artist.


What is the connection between the different works of Water Table?

Each of the dances addresses a relationship to water—whether it be the empathic coordination between the human body and a body of water or a requiem to a desert land where people walk miles for precious water. The pieces are also connected through their use of music. In the desire to work with the wonderful musical duo of Frank Cassara and Ralph Farris, all of the dances have been set to compositions made expressly for percussion and viola.

Molissa Fenley and dancer India Gonzalez study footage for the re-work of Fenley's 1979 dance "Mix."

You've lived in the U.S., Nigeria and Spain. Have the different cultures you've lived in shaped you as an artist?

Yes, I think about wide open space and how my dance can inhabit it and bask in it. Growing up and seeing Yoruba dance as a child and later flamenco as a teenager—both have been incredibly influential and there are certainly strains of both in my vocabulary today. And through my travels to Indonesia, India and Japan I have incorporated stylistic ideas into my vocabulary.

Molissa Fenley and Company will perform "Water Table" and "Mix" at Danspace in NYC June 21-23.

What does it feel like to still be choreographing and performing in your 60s? Has your approach to choreographing changed at all over the years?

It's an inevitability to keep dancing—a continuance of never questioning the passion and love for the art. What I do question is how to get the work out to others as the sharing of the work has become increasingly difficult. My approach to choreography is constantly adding to, deleting from, being inspired by something or someone, finding less interest in something—just like a life that has all sorts of ebbs and flows.

We are an intergenerational company—Jared our youngest at 19 and me at 63—it's truly inspiring and our rehearsals have been a joy!

Molissa Fenley and Company dancers Betsy Cooper and Kristen Foote rehearsing "Water Table" at NYU Tisch.

Dance History
Sergei Diaghilev, who was terrified of the sea, posing with a life preserver aboard a ship. Photo courtesy DM Archives

On August 19, 1929, shockwaves were felt throughout the dance world as news spread that impresario Sergei Diaghilev had died. The founder of the Ballets Russes rewrote the course of ballet history as the company toured Europe and the U.S., championing collaborations with modernist composers, artists and designers such as Igor Stravinsky, Pablo Picasso and Coco Chanel. The company launched the careers of its five principal choreographers: Michel Fokine, Vaslav Nijinsky, Léonide Massine, Bronislava Nijinska and George Balanchine.

Keep reading... Show less
The USC Kaufman graduating class with Mikhail Baryshnikov. Gus Ruelas/USC

Just four years ago, the University of Southern California's Glorya Kaufman School of Dance welcomed its first class of BFA students. The program—which boasts world-class faculty and a revolutionary approach to training focused on collaboration and hybridity—immediately established itself as one of the country's most prestigious and most innovative.

Now, the first graduating class is entering the dance field. Here, six of the 33 graduates share what they're doing post-grad, what made their experience at USC Kaufman so meaningful and how it prepared them for their next steps:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancers Trending
Alice Sheppard/Kinetic Light in DESCENT, which our readers chose as last year's "Most Moving Performance." Photo by Jay Newman, courtesy Kinetic Light

Yes, we realize it's only August. But we can't help but to already be musing about all the incredible dance happenings of 2019.

We're getting ready for our annual Readers' Choice feature, and we want to hear from you about the shows you can't stop thinking about, the dance videos that blew your mind and the artists you discovered this year who everyone should know about.

Keep reading... Show less
Breaking Stereotypes
Courtesy Chiara Valle

Chiara Valle is just one of many dancers heading back to the studio this fall as companies ramp up for the season. But her journey back has been far more difficult than most.

Valle has been a trainee at The Washington Ballet since 2016, starting at the same time as artistic director Julie Kent. But only a few months into her first season there, she started experiencing excruciating pain high up in her femur. "It felt like someone was stabbing me 24/7," she says. Sometimes at night, the pain got so bad that her roommates would bring her dinner to the bathtub.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get Dance Magazine in your inbox