vidf.ca, April 16, 2005

Axis Mundi
Vancouver International Dance Festival
Roundhouse Community Centre
March 23, 2005

by PHYLLIS SCHWARTZ


Maureen Fleming’s Axis Mundi, performed 23 March 2005 received a standing ovation. Set against a video projection by Jeff Bush and accompanied by ethereal music by Philip Glass an elegant solo performance, transformed the corporal into an apotheosis of dance. Axis Mundi is a suite of dances comprised of four parts: The Sphere, Axis Mundi (The Tree of Life), Mother and Child, and Flower Revolution.

The Sphere begins with the sounds of the ocean. The opening stance, a statuesque figure on a plinth in extreme shadow arches back in ultra slow motion as if to forms wings and continues downward until arms meet feet forming a full circle. Red lighting highlights the arch posed before a waterscape projection on the scrim. Fleming’s body begins to move in extreme slow motion as if it were a kinetic sculpture. Limbs bend over one another, keeping the oval form as arms and legs encircle her core defying boundaries as this movement cycle repeats. The multiple images on the back curtain wall form a flower pattern that morphs into a mandala while Maureen Fleming’s body lyrically transforms into a silhouette of a crane. A change of lighting reveals a pool of water on the stage reflecting languid limbs projecting multiple images on the screen. As her body rotates and limbs inscribe the central body, all my senses are captivated. Too enraptured, I cannot tell where projections and reflections begin or end.

Axis Mundi (Tree of Life) is the most concrete section of this Maureen Fleming’s performance. Attaching branches to her arms, Maureen Fleming transforms her human form into the tree of life. Axis Mundi, represented by an upwardly branching tree, is a universal symbol of the self-centred nature of every part of the universe. All phenomena are structurally centred with branches extending from the core: atoms, snowflakes, flowers, trees, humans, and solar systems. Rotating on her axis, Fleming’s body is a projection of a tree on a horizon. Her rib cage is lit to resemble branches extending from a tree trunk. The video projection shows multiple images of a tree structure rotating until they become abstract: a red fire ball against a black sky transforms into a red sky on the screen; Fleming’s face morphs into a spherical shape. As the tree appears to become a burden, the lighting enhances images of crucifixion and a curtain closes on a stormy sky that meets waves of the sea. I wonder if, in her conceptualization of the intersection of the sacred and the profane, is Maureen Fleming the tree of life or the red projection? The final visual imagery of this soul’s journey leaves me breathless and exhausted.

Mother and Child is a lyrical video of Maureen Fleming by Jeff Bush. The stage is dark, and the image projections reflect in the mirror on the Marley. The music evokes an ethereal sensation of floating, and Fleming’s body remains compactly tucked against her trunk as if she were nestled in an egg. Spatially confined, her body slowly moves from one sculptural form to another maintaining an outer form while internally suggesting fetal exploration of womb space. As each limb moves gracefully leaving space for another limb to occupy the void, Fleming’s body rotates on an axis. A choir of soprano voices accompanies a compositional shift, and limbs extend outward as if exploring outer space all the time appearing as a weightless form. Drawing inward again, the body becomes a solid mass, and the camera focuses on Maureen Fleming’s face that sleeps peacefully. This mother and child vignette is an intimate tone poem open to myriad metaphorical meanings. It refines primordial elements in a way that demands that we pause to witness what is sacred about the life force within us all.

Flower Revolution brings a satisfying ending to Maureen Fleming’s performance. Video imagery foreshadows what will be repeated by Fleming on the stage below. Organ music grounds a performance that is a departure from the meditative movement in the previous three vignettes. Maureen Fleming manipulates a diaphanous white train of flowing fabric that is reminiscent of Loie Fuller’s expressive manipulation of costume and scarves into colourful, sensual forms. Transcending the corporal body, Fleming creates images of a sail full of wind, a free-floating image space and a flying angel with wings. Rotating a massive train drapery around her body, Fleming becomes a sculptural object; running energetically against the force of a wind machine, the train explodes into an image of a body set free; the sound of rain suggests a stormy and satisfying release from her confinement. On the scrim, images of an indigo sea suggest that in the end everything returns to its elemental beginning.

Out in the darkness of night, encased in wonderment, in awe of an artist whose composition synthesizes so successfully spirituality and reality by dancing on the thin ledge of the edge of illusion, I know that soon something mundane will pierce the illusion. Rarely is an hour filled with such elegance and sensory pleasure, so my mind reaches for something solid to soften the fall. Sometimes words are too limiting to capture the rare, stunning calm moment when space opens for contemplation of the wondrous and sacred. I want this water feature for my garden.