by Cheryl Plant
Whether we remember them or not, events shape us, influencing perceptions, judgments and decisions. Impressions linger in our body, flowing through blood, hardening in the bones, surfacing later as a memory or a vague stirring in the unconscious. New York choreographer Maureen Fleming's astounding multimedia work "After Eros," to be performed for Fast Forward March 19 -2O at TheatreVirginia, is based on one such pivotal event.
In 1994, she was standing on her head for a performance, waiting for the lights to come on. Something snapped in her neck. When she later went to a doctor, he discovered a bone spur and her vertebra fused, a condition the physician said would confine most people to a wheelchair. He said the problem originated years ago-did she recall an event that might have spurred this? She didn't but her mother did. At age 2, when her family, lived in Japan, Fleming flew through the windshield of a car driven by her mother after a man on a bicycle cut them off.
"A lot of my flexibility goes back to my accident," explains Fleming. "My mom recalls me always moving with all the twists that I still do. I never stopped moving. I had a need to move like that as a way to release the trauma. I probably have the flexibility of a 2 year old."
Fleming bends herself like hot wax melting from one organic form into another, her head or arm seeming to dislocate unnaturally before wandering into a new location. Her mesmerizing movements that result in striking, unimaginable shapes have been compared to sculpture by Brancusi and Moore.
Sculpture, Greek mythology and the accident influenced "After Eros". So, too, has Butoh, a typically slow moving, often improvisational dance form born out of post-atomic Japan. She saw similarities between her dance and Butoh. When she wanted to study with those whose work had gone deeper than her own, she chose Kazuo Ohno, his son, Yoshito, and Min Tanaka. She describes her study with these Butoh masters, particularly her three months living with the senior Ohno in Yokohama, as "living inside a surrealist dream." her meticulous, consistently slow movements bear many resemblances to Butoh, but she is aware of the differences. "I approach movement from an alchemical place, or movement that causes transformation. Both [cathartic and transformational] images exist inside the Butoh vocabulary, but I've chosen only those images that are transformational for me. . .I choreograph in a traditional sense and much of Butoh is an improvisational process."
The journey of "After Eros" is neither abstract nor narrative. When her naked body folds in place or slithers down steps, she hopes the audience watches "the way they would watch their dreams." The goal of all her work is "to reveal the transcendent through images which focus on the human body as the vehicle of transformation."
She concedes that "After Eros" is about her childhood accident, but only as a starting point. "It goes beyond this real person who was wounded as a child.... Great art is when you can take the temporal, the here and now, and make it merge with the eternal."