By ALICE KADERLAN
It's a long way from Catholic school to nude performances around the world, but that's the road that Maureen Fleming has take since making the decision to pursue a career as a butoh artist.
The flesh is the costume of the soul," Fleming said in a recent interview "and (being nude) is an opening of vulnerability. It's something that one is giving, not showing."
For Fleming, whose new work, "After Eros," was co-commissioned by the Pittsburgh Dance Council and has its world premiere this evening, appearing nude is intrinsic to her artistic goals and her ability to communicate with an audience.
Butoh works with images that create a transformation in the dancer and viewer and I see the body as a vehicle to transcend the soul," Fleming said. "(By being nude) I'm saying that the body is the creation of God, and has no time and place. The moment that you put clothes on, it ceases to be universal."
Fleming's interest in the transformative nature of Butoh, which was founded in Japan after World War II, derives partly from an instinctive affinity for it but also from conversations with writer Joseph Campbell, who became widely known largely as a result of his interviews with Bill Moyers on PBS. Fleming got to know Campbell personally when she performed with his wife and says it was Campbell who first recognized tier ability to use movement to transcend body pain.
"I'd been living with low-grade neck pain for years because of a @one spur that grew after a childhood car accident, and doing daily exercises to strengthen my neck muscles," Fleming said. "One day he (Campbell) said 'your dance is your transcendent.' That changed my life and I realized that I could use dance to allow my unconscious to emerge and to transcend the pain."
Like other Butoh artists, Fleming believes that the unconscious is closely connected to the body, and that by developing a technique that allows the dancer to work from ligaments and tendons, the unconscious becomes more accessible, both to dance and viewer. "There is an energy, that comes off the Butoh artist's body, and if you watch the performance as you watch a dream, the viewer's unconscious will emerge also," Fleming said. "The transformation occurs for, the audience by allowing the work to sit and percolate."
Fleming acknowledges that this process sounds cerebral, but her works do connect with audiences at a more visceral level, according to reviews from critics around the country, from whom she's won special praise for her sculptural style and highly controlled micro-movements. In "After Eros," Fleming adds an additional element text by playwright Henry David Hwang, widely known for the Tony-award winning play, "M. Butterfly."
Fleming and Hwang's collaboration uses its point of departure the hit-and-run car accident that caused Fleming's neck injury. As a 3-year-oId child living in Japan with her American parents, Fleming was riding in the car with her mother when a Japanese man on a bicycle darted in front of them and she was thrown into the windshield.
This theme, and many others, are woven into Hwang's text, which, together with Fleming's movement and Philip Glass' music, creates a composition that poses a number of explicit questions, according to Fleming. "Is pain necessary for art? Does culture reside in blood or experience? Does love have the power to transcend memory?"
By using Hwang's text to make her images more accessible and expansive, Fleming said she hopes to make "After Eros" even more meaningful for the audience, although viewers may have to work to get beyond the explicit narrative. "The text can limit the individual's reaction if he or she thinks only about my story," Fleming said. "What we're trying to do is pull the text and movement together so that the work becomes a universal experience."