Fleming astounds at Kaatsbaan
Even though Maureen Fleming’s various appearances at Kaatsbaan International Dance Center in Tivoli over the past five years have been the most stunning and memorable of all the marvelous dance programs presented there, the state-of-the-art dance studio in Tivoli wasn’t full Saturday night October 27. “Why not?” a friend wondered. “She’s the most incredible dancer I’ve ever seen!” Why not indeed, when Kaatsbaan’s ticket prices are so reasonable and Fleming was only performing twice. Why wasn’t every single one of the 160 beautifully raked seats taken?
It wasn’t the weather, and there was plenty of advance publicity for the event, not to mention word of mouth based on previous years’ extraordinary performances. So why aren’t people lined up to see Fleming’s performances? Perhaps the audience for dance in this rural area is limited. Or perhaps the taste and level of sophistication of the people who attend dance performances in our area is limited. One way or the other anyone who missed her recent performance of Waters of Immortality, and other works inspired by the poetry of W.B Yeats missed a dance event that had the potential to transform their lives.
Perhaps it is the very potential of Fleming’s work for transformation that scares people off. In our compulsively hyperactive culture, we’re so addicted to rushing around, planning ahead, busily doing things, that the prospect of sitting still for an hour or two, without a lot of action to engage our minds, can be uncomfortable for some, if not unwelcome. Even the incentive of watching Fleming’s extraordinarily lithe and beautifully formed nude body engaged in motion apparently isn’t enough for many of our action-hungry minds.
Fleming is a unique, versatile and gifted dancer/choreographer who studied extensively in Japan with Kazuo Ohno, co-founder of Butoh, a minimalist movement developed in post war Japan. Her approach to dance is reminiscent of Eiko and Koma’s, who studied with the same teacher. Slow, sensual, meditative movement plus the shaping of nude bodies into abstract sculptural forms are characteristic of their shared approach to dance. Fleming has the ideal physique for a dance slender and perfectly shaped, with extraordinary flexibility. Her willingness to literally bare herself before us as she dances is a testimony to her courage and commitment to the creative process. As a choreographer, it is her creation of metaphorical multi-media performance pieces in which she is the solo dancer that distinguishes her from her peers.
The dance/choreographer collaborated with an extraordinary group of designers and musicians to fulfill her vision for Kaatsbaan’s recent dance program. They include: Christopher Odo’s light and visual design, Lois Greefield’s photographs, Jeff Bush’s videography, Brett Jarvis’s sound design, live and recorded music by Philip Glass and Somei Satoh, and live performances by pianist Bruce Brubaker and shakuhachi player Akikazu Nakamura.
Those who have been following Fleming’s work over the past several years may have seen segments of this brilliant program before. Suffice it to say that the work has evolved and transformed, along with the artist. Whether she is arched backwards holding on to one toe atop a pedestal while moving with exquisite slowness; or whirling across the stage in a swirl of sheer red silk; or stretching herself taut against a hammock of stretchy white fabric; or languorously falling headfirst down a staircase, as though in a dream, Fleming’s work is always fascinating, beautiful to behold and emotionally riveting.
As the years have gone by, videography has played an increasingly important role in her programs. Gigantic images of Fleming’s nude body in poses reminiscent of sculpture or elements from the natural landscape are projected onto a sheer black scrim toward the front of the space or on the rear backdrop, or both. Sometimes we see the dancer spotlighted along with the video images. Sometimes the dancer is nowhere in sight. For a solo performer, Fleming provides us with tremendous variety on a visual level, more than enough to hold our interest. In fact, I would highly recommend her performances to anyone interested in or actively involved in the visual arts. You will leave inspired.