BY L. A. SMALL
What first appears to be a blood-drained torso twists slowly in the gloom as music played on Tibetan bowls shimmers, in the air. Suddenly, the stage goes black. The sweet, whirring sounds give way to rumbles of thunder. In a flash, a blaze of scarlet startles us: A figure draped in diaphanous fabric faces into a strong wind. The air carries the veil out and around like flames of a fireball in flight-distorted in shape, reflected in a shallow pool of water. But, when the veil is removed and the red light withdraws, we find that the figure is human.
For her radiant new solo, Water on the Moon, Fleming draws from her experience in butoh, the Japanese avant-garde dance of eerie micromovements and extraordinary control. (Over the past several years, Fleming has spent a great deal of time in Japan, her country of birth, studying and working with butoh masters Min Tanaka and Kazuo Ohno.) Like modern dance pioneer Loie Fuller, she combines lighting and misty fabric into a theater of sensuous wizardry. Inspired by the myth of Psyche and Eros, Water on the Moon is episodic and mysterious enough for audiences to project upon it what they will.
Behind a scrim, a steep flight of stairs, without banisters, rises. Fleming, totally draped in translucent white, gradually turns under the light. After she removes her veil, her naked body slowly twists, slips, and snakes down the velvet-covered steps. Her flesh is shaped and lit as if by Caravaggio
In the following scene, Fleming stretches out in the pool. Her tiny movements, set to soft vocal music from the Greek Orthodox liturgy, become a meditation on the brittle sticks, capturing the feeling of each kink and extension. She stands branches spiraling up her wrists, streak of red running beneath one breast.
With its conclusion, Water on the Moon takes on a playful character, set spinning by a Strauss waltz. At first, we think we are seeing Fleming-naked again, rear end pointed at the ceiling as she rests upended on her shoulders, motionless flesh highlighted as if it were marble sculpture. But it is a different (unidentified) woman. Fleming appears on the staircase, barefoot and disheveled. As the other woman rolls away, Fleming creeps through a tear in the scrim. An egg, dangling by a thread above her sassily dances to the waltz. When it dips low enough, she gently cups it, then, with pleasure, crushes it against her mouth and chin. The current of the waltz seizes this clownish figure. Lighthearted, continuous movement courses through her as she tramps through the water. She has found life.
For lending their strengths to this powerful work, Fleming's creative team should share the acclaim: Alice Pitty, Chris Odo, her husband and collaborator, Christina Weppner (scenic design); Phil Lee (sound design); Howard Thies (lighting). All helped make Water on the Moon an unforgettable experience.