By WILMA SALISBURY
New York performance artist Maureen Fleming transported her audience to a magical world of stillness and illusion Wednesday night at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Her exquisite multimedia show, "Tara" was a seamless blend of movement, music, sound, lighting and video.
Although the program consisted of pre-existing works from Fleming's unique solo repertoire, it evoked the meditative quality of sacred sculptures in the museum's exhibition, "Buddhist Treasures from Nara." Among the more obvious links were kaleidoscopic videos that looked like moving human mandalas and taped music that sounded like Buddhist chants. In a scene that was costumed in a long red kimono, Fleming resembled a figure from a Japanese painting. Throughout the one-hour performance, her sense of time was definitely Asian.
Except for a brief sequence of spinning with diaphanous white draperies, every movement was incredibly slow and controlled. In the opening work, "The Sphere," Fleming's mesmerizing choreography was as static as the accompanying minimalist music by Philip Glass. Rooted to one spot on a black platform, the ballet and butoh-trained dancer gradually bent backward until her slender body (encased in flesh-colored nylon) formed a closed circle. As she melted into the ground, her head disappeared in the blackness and her body looked like an organic sculpture shaped and shaded by Chris Odo's subtle lighting. At the peak of the music's final crescendo, she transformed her extraordinarily flexible body into a living toadstool.
The music continued through Jeff Bush's fascinating mandala videos and Fleming's ceremonial walk in the red kimono.
Low rumbles of thunder set the scene for "The Stairs," a gravity defying solo in which Fleming moved like a weightless moth down a steep black velvet staircase. Beginning upside down, she took an eternity to stretch her legs and revolve inch by inch through two complete turns. Accompanying her dramatic descent was pianist Peter Philips, who played Glass's music onstage in total darkness.
In "Axis Mundi (Tree of Life) another version of the same music was mixed with chant-like vocalizations by Japanese composer Somei Satoh. With only a narrow strip of cloth wrapped around her bare body, Fleming emerged from a crescent-shaped pool of water, her limbs sparkling, her fingers splayed. Curving and twisting she reached out and rose up with prickly white branches encircling her arms. For long moments, she seemed to hang from the cruel branches as though suspended on a cross. But ultimately, she closed in on herself and cradled the thorns in her arms.
Sounds of flowing water and crashing ocean waves introduced "Flower," the ecstatic solo that opened with a Loie Fuller-like manipulation of sheer white fabric. After swiftly swirling through space, Fleming ran offstage leaving her image behind.
The only technical glitch in the nearly flawless performance was a late cue for the taped nature sounds preceding 'Flower.' Because of the momentary silence, the audience broke the spell with applause. But the lighting and film quickly restored the mood.
At the end, Fleming took her first bow with passive face and motionless stance. Only after the spotlight caught her stepping off the podium did she raise her arms to acknowledge the crowd's tribute to her amazing artistry.