Monday, October 29, 2007
TIVOLI - In my 20-plus years as reviewer, I have never seen an artist as alluring as Maureen Fleming. The butoh-inspired dancer possesses a power that draws her audience in so deeply that time is suspended. So, too, is place. She’s a svengali whose hypnotic skills go miles beyond those of most soloists, who can only hold an audience’s eye for several minutes. Fleming can easily keep us in her grip for two hours.
She performed this weekend at Kaatsbaan International Center for Dance, where she has become a regular. Actually, this is the only regional venue where you will see Fleming. There are questions as to why this intense dancer is not booked at other venues. The answer likely lies in her nakedness. In every dance she wears nothing. Much of her nudity is discreet and all of it is tasteful. But many presenters wouldn’t dare lend her their stage. That’s the audience’s loss because Fleming is an artist who should not be missed.
At Kaatsbaan, she presented the New York premiere of her “Waters of Immortality.” When the piece opens, Bruce Brubaker sits at the piano in near darkness playing a haunting score by Philip Glass. As the music builds, Fleming appears behind a scrim on a platform shaped like a Mayan pyramid. Seated and with her head bent, she curls a leg behind her. In slow motion, an arm arched over her head moves toward her pointed toes. And once the fingers and toes meet, she stretches them away from her, forming an oval with her curved spine.
Her secret may be in her keenly attuned mind and body connection. They are so closely linked that she can become anything she wantsa tree, the wind, an angel. Witnesses are incredulous at the transformation.
Fleming the dancer and Glass the composer are an ideal pairing. One of my favorite pieces from this combination is The Stairs. The lights rise on a staircase in which her legs are akimbo at the top. With her head facing downward, Fleming descends the flight like honey, sleepily slithering. The protracted length of her fall heightens the experience. But mostly, Fleming wins over the audience with her grace.
In addition to the pianist, the concert featured shakuhachi player Akikazu Nakamura. The bamboo flutist played music by Somei Satoh with great reverence of Fleming’s “Driftwood.” With Nakamura off to the side, Fleming lay in a shallow pool of water from which she rose like a gnarled piece of wood, and then sank as if eroded. Her ability to contort and stretch her body in unnatural waysas a piece of driftwoodfurther enhances her might. In the end, one can’t deny that Fleming is a force of nature.