Molissa Fenley on Climate Change and Dancing into Her 60s

June 12, 2018

“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.