She's American, born in Japan, looking for origins, containing contradictions, finding charkas and images of pearls that wander through the body, roots that grow from the soles of her feet. She carries letters patent sealed three thousand years ago. Butoh, a car crash and the myth of Eros and Psyche drove Maureen Fleming into the questioning of the soul; 'Eros & Psyche' is the name of her performance. There are spectators who see nothing but a statue; conditioned by a channel-hopping culture they become restless during the pauses between images in which the infinity of the Cosmos is revealed. Art, says Maureen Fleming, should open up new ways of seeing-of seeing pain, for instance. In the first scene she stands on a plinth, heavily burdened with the weight of antiquity. Slowly she bends backwards, anti-clockwise - and almost as imperceptibly as the hour hand: cast out like Psyche, at the mercy of her suitors on the mountain. Maureen bends down until her body assumes the form of a droplet, referring to how Psyche herself was born from a drop of water, and to the drop of oil that fell from her lamp when she defiantly shone a light on her invisible partner, a monster of cruel beauty by the name of Eros. A body can curl up in pain, but also in joy, in arousal, in meditation . . . in pain there is always a flash of ecstasy; every ecstasy is shot through with pain. What Maureen Fleming stages is neither pure pain a la Karine Saporta nor Meg Stuart's reduction of the body to pure incommunicative flesh but the body as vessel of a material soul. At the meeting place of all its contradictions dance can be reduced to the essential, the elemental: the protagonist loses its ego, the body its posturing for the mirror. The dancer's statement: here is my leg, my head, is immediately deconstructed by Maureen Fleming in the grey area inhabited by an indefinable life form. Her droplet is perfect-too perfect for the human body which nevertheless remains recognizable in this first scene.
The music of the spheres in 'Eros and Psyche' is mostly by John Adams. The relationship between music and movement is harmonious: both are pared to the minimum and still create movement in the stillness. In the purity of her movement Maureen Fleming feels close to the work of Bob Wilson, they are linked through the Music of Philip Glass, with whom Maureen is currently working on the multitudes she contains - but her performance is neither minimalistically repetitive nor, as with Wilson, is the body obscured in a lattice of gesture. Perhaps this is why Philip Glass is seeking a 20-fold multiple Fleming for his new stage project 'After Eros'. Anyone in New York, then, who can alienate themselves from their body like Fleming instead of presenting it, should step forward. One should, for instance, be able to bring together leg and abdomen so closely that a new integral geometrical form is created. She confirms every doubt as to whether she's made of flesh and blood or rather of some mineral or abstract material. Even so the body is in constant motion, winding itself into poses that one would only have thought possible with computer animation.
Another unification of opposites the virtual and the antique. One would like to circle each of these creations on stage, to view them from every possible angle (without any sense of voyeurism). One can't generally shift around during the performance, of course, and so should see it at least twice from different seats.
Aesthetic surprises are guaranteed. To play the role of a superhuman beauty from whom the dazzled suitors flee has nothing to do with vanity here. Maureen's joints dislocate her limbs, dismantling the ephemeral physical image. This reinterlocking of the parts of the body is so complex that despite the slowness of its changes a new perspective is revealed every moment. Makeup is unnecessary; only lighting effects are needed to evoke the impression of a soulless material that hums in Psyche's cosmos.
Following the teaching of the chakras Maureen Fleming believes in the materialization of the soul within the body and applies the powers of mantras and mandalas. She has studied Taoism, Japanese Butoh and 15th century alchemy: "The relationship between body and soul has been fundamentally misunderstood since the Stoics postulated their division. Much of the materialism would disappear from our society if we could begin to redefine the body in this sense. Mutual retaliation is also an unworkable system for states."
Maureen Fleming's own history began with a car crash in Japan. "Shock is a tightrope walk experience beyond good and evil. It confronts us with a question: Can we channel it into positive evolution - or will it destroy us?" At the age of two, she was catapulted through a car windscreen when her mother had to brake suddenly. An old Japanese man had stopped in front of the car. He watched the baby's flight, laughed and rode on - "Just like Eros, the malevolent." The second scene in 'Eros & Psyche' shows a luminous staff twirled by a Japanese, referring to Eros' arrow and the spokes of the old Japanese man's bicycle wheels, Maureen describes his behavior as a "war crime" - but she has forgiven, and intimates that each flight is an act of liberation, that in hers lay the seed of her career.
As a child she began to dance in contortions and slow turnings, she supposes that it was a natural way to unwind the twists of her muscles. And so the wish to become a dancer evolved and came true. One day a tiny bone gave way in mid-performance and Maureen fell senseless to the floor; X-rays located a splinter of bone that had grown between two vertebrae. The doctor advised Maureen to seek an event in her childhood that could have caused it, and it was only then that she discovered the story of the accident from her mother. Her career and her very life are miracles; most people with a spine like hers are in wheelchairs.
At the end of the third scene Maureen unfolds herself, picks up two branches and stretches up into the air, her splayed fingers are like twigs. In her workshop she works on auto-suggestion for instance of the trees which are growing through the body - and develops her own teaching method. Movements evolve from the power of archaic images, emerge from the body and generate an energy rather than, as is the case with mime and especially the Decroux School of physical mime, channeling the energy that one consumes from external sources. Nevertheless it is conceivable that Maureen Fleming, like Decroux, will in time develop her own physical grammar.
Maureen's life oscillates between Japan and New York. She was engaged for a production with Min Tanaka and encountered Butoh- Tanaka became her teacher and, after him, Kazuo Ohno, who took her into his home. "His teaching was 'Learning by Doing'. He devised scenes using biblical motifs or the history of art and we improvised on them. His house is full of books on art. From the motif of being changed into a pillar of salt he devised an improvisation on becoming water; that's how things take shape in his mind. He was appearing all over Japan and rehearsing for it. He loved to perform, no matter who for, and every evening at seven I was his audience, after which I had to dance for him. Imagine what it does to your nerves to improvise dance every evening at eight for Kazuo Ohno! One day I asked Kazuo if it would be possible to devise a piece with his son Yoshito 'Yes, of course,' he said, so I went back to New York and we appeared for three weeks at La Mama." Ellen Stewart, former fashion designer and since 1968 the mother figure for all avant-garde artists at her 'La Mama ETC', helped Karole Armitage and Bob Wilson to their first appearances and provides performance opportunities for insider tips like Tadeusz Kantor in the USA. 'Eros & Psyche' also found its way to the stage at La Mama. This August Maureen Fleming performed for the first time in Europe (apart from Italy) at the fourteenth 'Mimos' international mime festival in Perigueux with an almost complete version of 'Eros & Psyche'. In the final scene, 'The Butterfly', Psyche floats through the space in a bridal veil while Eros barely acknowledges the birth of this butterfly soul; he is tenderly stroking a round white skull: death, too, has its place in Maureen's giving birth to a new vision of the body. Thomas Hahn