Molissa Fenley on Climate Change and Dancing into Her 60s
"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.
Jennifer Kahn knew the theater industry could do better. As a professional stage manager for 17 years she worked on regional, off-Broadway and Broadway shows. Nearly each time a show closed, something unsettling happened: "I would watch them throw away our shows. All of the beautiful artwork by my friends in the paint shop would go in the trash." The elaborate backdrops? Gone.
But she had an idea: What if the material used in the backdrops and legs could be upcycled into something new? And what if theater lovers could literally keep a piece of a beloved show?
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.
For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.
New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.
"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "
She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.