History

Letters of Recommendation

Selected Engagements • Grants & Awards


Maureen Fleming's B. Madonna

Maureen Fleming's B. Madonna is a stunning example of an artist engaging successfully both the personal and the public experience of physical trauma and its aftermath. That the material used to make sense of the violence done to the human body, to take the pressure of personal and public history, is her own body, unprotected and utterly vulnerable, makes the transformation enacted by this performance all the more remarkable. There is a moment where the dancer is turned away from the audience, facing her own reflection, arms raised, with branches of wood along her shoulders and arms like the wings that encouraged the dream of Icarus. The barely perceptible tremble in the slow motion of her body anticipating a fall is deeply shocking after the supreme control she has demonstrated earlier in the performance, embodying the disintegration and resurrection of the twin towers, and the capacity of the female body to recreate and regenerate itself in the process of childbirth. The extraordinary grace and power of those scenes is now replaced by a premonition of annihilation, a downfall at least partly attributable to human desire and vanity.

Fleming's artistic courage in confronting the fragile glory of the human body and our capacity for inflicting and enduring pain is exemplary, as indeed is her insistence on an artistic practice that does not shirk its responsibility to history, its intimacies and atrocities. She moves beyond the beautiful to provide a deeply moving, and ultimately redemptive response to suffering. The B. Madonna is one of the most complete and compelling performances I have witnessed in any art form.

Louis de Paor
Irish Language Fulbright Scholar
New York University
& University College Berkeley 2013-14


Maureen Fleming
Artistic Director
Maureen Fleming Company
6 East 211d Street
New York, NY 10003

22 Iúil 20 15

Maureen, a chara,

I am delighted to have the opportunity to write in support of your application for a Fulbright Fellowship that would enable you to spend time in Ireland exploring the Irish dimension of your own personal and family history with a view to incorporating that story into your artistic practice. Your final performance of the B Madonna at La Mama Theatre in New York last year was one of the most extraordinary artistic moments I have ever been privileged to witness, a reminder of the responsibility of art to our shared human predicament and the possibilities of resilience and redemption in the face of personal suffering and historical violence. I have written a brief response to that performance which I hope you will include with your application.

The Centre for Irish Studies at the National University of Ireland, Galway would be pleased to host you during the period of your residency from 1 January to 31 May 2017. In addition to providing institutional affiliation, office space, and administrative support, we can offer access to the University library and other resources relevant to your research. We can also arrange introductions to local artists and performers, with whom you may develop joint initiatives and international collaborations that extend beyond the term of your fellowship. Galway Dancer-in-residence Rionach Ni Neill has been affiliated to the Centre for Irish Studies for several years and I have already spoken with her about the potential for collaborating with you through workshops, performances, and other public events. You will also have the opportunity to work with our sean-n6s singers and dancers in residence, opening up a dialogue between very different artistic modes and dance traditions, extending both in dynamic new ways. I understand you will also be working with Dr Mary Nunan of the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at the University of Limerick. NUI Galway and the University of Limerick are part of a strategic alliance of Irish universities on the Atlantic seaboard and your residency will strengthen that institutional partnership in the area of practice based research.

I wish you every success with you application and look forward to welcoming you to Galway in Spring 2017.

Le gach dea-ghui,

Dr Louis de Paor,
Director, Centre for Irish Studies,
National University of Ireland, Galway.


October 2, 2011

To Whom It May Concern:

Maureen Fleming is an outstanding American artist. Why? I believe her work is as unique as Robert Wilson’s and as beautiful and ambiguous as a dream.

Although meaningful and beautiful, her solos are extremely unsentimental, like wild flowers in a desert land, they simple stand for the onlooker’s eyes, unobtrusive, honest, extremely earthy.

There are artists who words cannot describe. You can only recommend “GO SEE HER!”, and that was all I could say to those who later inquired about her performance.

In conjunction with the museum’s Buddhist Treasures from Nara exhibition, I invited Maureen Fleming for a performance at the museum’s Gartner Auditorium. Alone in the presence of others, in the vulnerable state of a naked child, totally disarmed, she began a spellbinding performance. Her total disarmament toward the others, combined with the mastery with which she executes the most unbelievable body movements, her amazingly beautiful use of film, live and taped music, her keen sense of choreography and scenography, all worked together to put the a silent spell over the auditorium. Just as in a dream, her work allows for a flight of the psyche.

I am not alone in my praise of Maureen Fleming, the standing ovation of a near-capacity auditorium, the spontaneous audience discussions that ensued that night in the museum’s parking lot, the phone calls and letters that my office received, all speak of the uniqueness of this extraordinary American artist.

But please don’t take my words, GO SEE HER!

Sincerely,

Massoud Saidpour
Coordinator, Performing Arts
11150 East Boulevard
CLEVELAND, OHIO 44106-1797

TEL 216-707-2466


April 30, 2007

 

Dear Maureen;

 I want to thank you and your company for a brilliant performance of Waters of Immortality and Other Works at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington, VT on April 20, 2007.  The performance furthered your multicultural mix of movement, music, lighting, design and sound which the audience found beautiful and compelling.  It was culmination to a rich, multi-faceted NPN Commission residency in partnership with the National Performance Network, Fulbright Korea (Seoul Institute of the Arts), Japan Foundation Performing Arts Japan and CRASHarts, Boston.

Waters of Immortality and Other Works inspired by the writings of William Butler Yeats realized through your haunting choreography and performance, was strongly enhanced by the live music performed by Japanese shakuhachi master, Akikazu Nakamura and pianist, Peter Phillips. Photography by Lois Greenfield and the brilliant lighting and visual design by Christopher Odo completed the experience.

The artistic and social impact you have had upon our community has been tremendous.

I believe we collaborated well to provide a fulfilling, multifaceted residency rich with opportunity for our community to participate through your well attended workshops, performance and discussions. We were especially fortunate to share your expertise in working with people with disabilities and therapists through extended workshops.

I was also pleased that the communication and technical set up with our production staff was successful and that your performance received such an enthusiastic standing ovation from an audience of over 800 people. This was a particularly rewarding culmination to a remarkable residency. You are an accomplished artist who creates work that moves people on many levels. W. B. Yeats’ immortal ears were ringing.

Sincerely,

Arnie Malina, Artistic Director
Flynn Center for the Performing Arts

 

153 Main Street, Burlington, VT 05401        

Tel: 802.652.4500       Fax: 802.863.8788      Web:  www.flynncenter.org


May 1, 2005

On April 23 and 24, 2005, the Oglethorpe University academic had the extraordinary opportunity to see the remarkable avant-garde and syncretic dance of Maureen Fleming. She has already performed to much acclaim all over the world, and her time here on campus was nothing short of breathtaking. As a philosopher with a strong interest in aesthetics (including a passion for Japanese aesthetics), I would like to reflect here on some aspects of the delicate yet powerful gifts that she shared with us during her weekend visit.

Fleming often performs au naturel, as if she were a force of nature herself (exposed and fragile, yet erotic and generative). She combines some of her formal western training in classical techniques of dance with her training in the controversial and artistically innovative Japanese approach to dance called Buto (literally, to dance by treading). What is at stake in such an unusual combination of approaches to dance? What emerges in her combination of select elements of western style and a form of Japanese movement which paradoxically claims to be on the cutting edge and yet is somehow primordially Japanese, even primordially human?

At the height of the Enlightenment, as reason ascended to its self-proclaimed throne, the philosopher Baruch Spinoza in his masterpiece the Ethics (1677) argued that the human body exceeded the grasp of discursivity. "Nobody as yet has learned from experience what the body can and cannot do, without being determined by mind, solely from the laws of its own nature in so far as it is considered corporeal." The full range of the body's activities surpasses both the knowledge and control of the thinking subject. When I am told that I have spent the night sleepwalking, for example, my body appears to correct my habit of calling it mine, as if the pretension of the mind's ownership of the body simply belonged to the vainglory of the one who would be king. "Sleepwalkers do many things in their sleep that they would not dare when awake; - clear evidence that the body, solely from the laws of its own nature, can do many things at which its mind is amazed" (Part III, proposition two, scholium).1

It is as if the body has a life of its own and its laws continue to outstrip the reach of the most robust boundaries of rationality. The body's mysteries remain to some extent pre-discursive and do not surrender all of their secrets to the realm of meaning Such pre-discursivity haunts and animates many moments of many of the arts, but it is in arts like dance that one can attempt to make the whole of one's body a place of experimentation and exploration as one plumbs one's animal depths.

One of the most dramatic contemporary embraces of the body's enigmatic pre-discursivity has been the deep descent into corporeal darkness called Buto. Founded in the cultural decimation of Occupied Japan, with the inassimilable trauma of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as its background, dancer-choreographers like Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno were witnessing Japan's hapless decent into crass materialism and the burgeoning triumph of the culture industry. Traditional art forms seemed on the brink of collapsing into mere commodities, "rubbing," to use Adomo's phrase, "against the wound that art itself bears."2 Rejecting both the incursion of Western techniques and the increasing sanitization of Kabuki and No (in order to make it more consumable by western sensibilities and by a vulgar Japanese industrial elite), the Buto companies staged, sometimes in unorthodox and even unwelcome venues, enigmatic dance happenings, featuring a minimum of movement, clothing, decorum, and capitulation.

It was as if Igor Stravinsky's Le Sacre du printemps were being inverted by a Zen Master. These were not Stravinski's techniques that sought to invoke a long lost pagan pre-discursivity, as if one were stripping away the mendacious veneer of modern society. Buto was rather the eruption of a primordial pre-discursivity from the source, as it sought expression in movements and gestures. It was the staging of the sudden eruption of the enigma of nature itself. As Eguchi Osamu remarked, "What I saw on that stage was a world in which words and things had not yet been differentiated; in short, I beheld the dawn of the world." Bodies writhed, with scarcely perceptible micro-movements, without any overarching harmony of composition to govern their corporate movements, yet it seemed as if each body expressed an unknown root which, despite its inscrutability, knew nothing of the capricious and everything of the necessary. There was nothing predictable and nothing random about Buto dance. As Susan Klein argued in her book, Ankokn Buto: The Premodem and Postmodern Influences on the Dance of Utter Darkness, Buto gained its expressive force "from its links to the uncanny and irrational and to a kind of subterranean reservoir of raw sexual energy tied up in the intimate relation that primitive humanity once had with nature."

The early Buto performances were usually shocking. If one remembers the riotous conditions that greeted Stravinsky, then the inversion of the logic of The Rite of Spring would perhaps arrive with an even greater jolt. Hijikata, for example, had disconcerted audiences right from the beginning. His first piece in 1959, inspired by Yukio Mishima's early (1951) novel of homosexual torment and joy, Kinjiki (Forbidden Colors), used chicken carcasses and was rife with erotic imagery. Finally, after a 1968 performance of his Revolt of the Flesh, the Japan Modem Dance Association banned Hijikata. Yet despite the grimness of Buto's background, this was not screaming and lamentation in the form of dance. Buto did not seek either to escape from or nostalgically react to modernity. Buto was, rather, the overcoming of modernity from within modernity, as the wounds of nature sought to heal themselves by reactivating their subterranean dimension. Within the discursivity of modernity, the pre-discursivity of nature began to stir again, eluding the grasp of the culture industry, while at the same time breeding new life.

Maureen Fleming, who was bom in Japan, but who was first trained in classical Western dance, realized later in her life that she had inadvertently discovered something fundamental to Buto as an infant. Fleming has often told the story that she had to see a doctor after a persistent neck injury had finally become disruptively aggravated. She was told that her body had once received an injury so traumatic that, had it not been ameliorated through persistent movement, it would have left her in a wheelchair. Yet Fleming could not remember any such injury. Finally, her mother recounted that when Fleming was two years old and living in Yokohama (Fleming's father was part of the occupying force), a bicyclist had suddenly pulled in front of the car as she was driving home. To avoid hitting him, the mother slammed on the brakes, and Fleming and her sister were catapulted through the windshield. After this violent jolt to the body, Fleming began instinctively to move and her constant and intuitive squirming helped heal the wound, as if she had tapped into the dark depths of the body.

Fleming later returned to Japan to study Buto formally and her own work shares the pre-discursive wellspring of the body. Rossella Battisti of the Roman newspaper L'Unita referred to Fleming's work as "postcards from the unconscious [cartoline dall’iconscio]"3 Gabrella Lorenz, in a German review of Fleming's work, called her movement, "a body that defines space, the eloquent language of silence. The acrobatics of slowness, the dancing of Asian philosophy. The overwhelming force of stillness."4

There is nothing, to say the least, busy or straightforwardly spectacular about Fleming's work. There are no Broadway showstoppers. Therein emerges the gentle storm of her work. Beyond the din of our daily lives, Fleming unleashes the counterforce of a great unspeakable silence, whose inarticulate laws emerge from the nether side of the tyranny of the concept. This is not to say that Fleming is a mere American Buto epigone, for she also seeks to translate her careful cultivation of a Buto sensitivity into a corporeal language that retains some traces of western formality. "I think that as I have gone farther in my own direction I've become more interested in incorporating the range of movement inherent in my classical training." A Buto performance is, strictly speaking, unrepeatable, preferring to maintain the spontaneity from which it gains its strength. Although Fleming's pieces are more precisely choreographed in advance, they nonetheless stem from an attunement to the same source. As Fleming explained in 2002, "Many artists begin creating out of pain. There's this sense of a need to escape a particular reality that puts one close to the unconscious, and the need to go somewhere else There's a reciprocal relationship between life and dance that changes as you are more and more able to go to a higher level of contact with the beyond, which sometimes we are given in the dance."5

I commend Maureen Fleming and her remarkable art to all those who are lucky enough to see her. The silence of the body is rarely so eloquent.

Sincerely,

Dr Jason M. Wirth
Associate Professor of Philosophy
Seattle University (and formerly of Oglethorpe University)

1Baruch Spinoza, The Ethics and Selected letters. Mans. Samuel Shirley (Indianapolis; Hackett, 1982).

2 Theodor W. Adomo, Aesthetic Theory (1970), trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 2.

3 Rossclla Battisti. "Cartoline dall'inconscio," L'Unita, December 29, 1993.

4 Gabriella Lorenz, "Die bercdte Sprachc des Schweignes," Abendzeitung, July 14, 1997.

5 Theodore Bale, "Choreographer Sets 'Eros' in Motion, Boston Herald, March 1, 2002.

Works Cited:
Susan Blakely Klein, Ankoku Buto: The Premodern and Postmodern Influences on the Dance of Utter Darkness (Ithaca: Cornell University East Asia Program, 1989).

4484 Peachtree Boad NE • Atlanta, Georgia 30319
Telephone (404) 261-1441 • Fax (404) 364-8500 • www.oglethorpe.edu

 


September 25, 1998

Dear Maureen:

Thank you very much for coming to Medellin-Colombia and to bring your art to our people. Thank you for presenting your work at the SEGUNDA TEMPORADA INTERNATIONAL DE DANZA CONTEMPORANEA MEDELLIN 98.

I want to tell you about that unforgettable night of your performance. We turned away 500 people at the door of the theater. It was 1600 people who stood applauding your performance, many with tears in their eyes. You really touched the people of Colombia and showed us the forgotten beauty of the human being, the beauty of our nature, the beauty of pure energy. The audience was transported to the world where we are all one.

As you know, we have a civil ware going on in Colombia for many years. As a Colombian I am trying to fight another war. The war of art, love and communication between people. Your performance was a great step forward for this vision. Both the size of the audience and the response of the people is something we never imagined possible for our new festival.

Again, thank-you both to you and the excellent artists working with you. I hope we can have the opportunity to have you return to the Third international contemporary Dance Season Medellin 99.

Sincerely,

Peter Palacio
Director

APAPATADO AEREO 75636
TELEFAX 57-4-2-625943
MEDELLLIN COLOMBIA


The Kitchen Center
For Video, Music, Dance
Performance, Film, and Literature

April 17, 1998

To Whom It May Concern:

The kitchen had the pleasure to present Maureen Fleming’s latest work, After Eros, for a four-night run, from April 2nd to April 5th, 1998.

The audience’s response was overwhelming. We sold out our 140-seat theater all four nights and had to turn away more than 300 people. After the show, we also received an unusual number of calls and e-mails from people who did not get the chance to see Maureen and were inquiring about her future appearances in the city.

During this run, Maureen took the time to develop various aspects of the work, making each performance a fresh and exciting experience.

The Kitchen appreciated the opportunity to work with Maureen, and will encourage any future presentation of this work, as well as any future undertaking by this artist.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at 212-255-5793.

Sincerely,

Elise Bernhardt
Executive Director


The Juilliard School
60 Lincoln Center Plaza
New York, New York 10023-6590
Dance Division
Tel 212-799-5000 ext f255 fax 212-724-0263

December 6,1999

To Whom It May Concern:

I would like to say a few words on behalf of Maureen Fleming who recently presented an inspiring and highly informative lecture demonstration for our students at The Julliard School I felt this program presented a clear and unique artistic perspective in addition to presenting a challenging view of the role art can potentially play in society.

I have admired Ms. Fleming’s work since attending her performance at La MaMa in New York and I invited her to The Juilliard School because I wanted her to share her approach to choreography with our students. Ms. Fleming engaged our students and Faculty for an hour with a series of beautiful pieces with intermittent projected videos and narratives, which guided the audience to an intimate understanding of Ms. Fleming’s pieces, the objective of her work, and the cross-cultural origins which gave birth to Fleming’s creations.

The response of the students and faculty was one of awe, then applause and a need to share with each other their impressions, the emotions evoked and their wonder at Ms. Fleming’s unique way of moving and choreographing. Their dialogues with Ms. Fleming indicated how deeply moved they were.

We are looking forward to working with Ms. Fleming at The Juilliard School in a future residency project.

Sincerely,

Benjamin Harkarvy
Artistic Director
Dance Division


24 November 1999

Maureen Fleming
6 East 2nd Street
New York, NY 10003

Dear Maureen,

I don't think I can easily communicate in words the impact of your performance of After Eros at The Colorado College this month. I continue to have colleagues, students, and even people from the community of Colorado Springs contacting me to let me know just how moving and wonderful your performance was.

All the feedback I have received suggests that your work has had a profound impact on the ways in which we think about the transformative possibilities of art and even its redemptive power. My colleagues continue to speak movingly about your evocation of the natural world with all its elemental presence, while they are simultaneously struck by your ability to touch something inexpressibly human simply by virtue of your movement. The students with whom I have spoken were immediately engaged by the overall spectacle of After Eros, the powerful combination of music, sound, lights, projections, setting, and movement which triggered responses, at any number of different levels. All in all, the response to your performance has been overwhelming and, frankly, moving. I have rarely had the experience of an audience so completely engaged with any art work, and this is a culture accustomed to instant gratification. What this response suggests to me is that people at both the local and regional level are starved for art that breaks the boundaries of traditional expectations, starved for art that challenges them.

I wanted to add that your master classes and your informal presentation/discussion with interested faculty were also great successes. The word among the dance students is that your master classes touched them in ways they had not expected, and this is bound to have a positive and intriguing impact on the nature of student work in the coming semesters. The faculty were struck by the ways in which you articulated your creative process, and I was particularly glad to learn how many of my colleagues have been longing to hear artists speak for themselves (rather than always hearing from scholars of the arts).

In short, your brief residency at The Colorado College was a wonderful success. I hope we will be able to bring you back soon for a more extended residency: your work is simply too important to pass up.

Best wishes,

Jonathan Scott Lee
National Endowment for the Humanities
Professor of Philosophy
Chair, Department of Philosophy

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