After Eros - The Boston Phoenix - March 8, 2002

Diving Slowly
Maureen Fleming at the Majestic


In one episode of Maureen Fleming's After Eros, which was presented by CRASHarts at the Emerson Majestic last weekend, a figure appeared high up, dangling against an opaque space, seemingly without support in any direction. Later, with a little more light, you could see that the woman was spreading and slowly plunging down a steep staircase, hooking an arm or a foot into some invisible slots. After several minutes, she acquired a superhuman beauty, like the divers soaring against the sky in Leni Riefenstahl's film of the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Fleming's dance is a performance of images, and for me it was most successful when the images were the strangest. In an interlude between stage pieces, a design appeared on the cyclorama at the back of the space. It looked like some exotic, malevolent flower, its symmetrical four-part structure imperceptibly mutating and growing until it filled the entire screen. The whole thing began revolving slowly. As it got bigger, a face seemed to stare out from the tips of the petals, and the inner, sexual flower parts took on a fleshier texture, like a person's thighs or arms. Before I could make out conclusively whether everything in this film belonged to the woman with the face, it was over.

And if the film had been a woman cloned, was the woman Fleming? During the hour long performance, the lights never got bright enough to disclose her face fully, and even though she was nude most or all of the time, you didn't see her body in any ordinary action until the last sketch. Fleming wasn't trying to dematerialize herself, it seemed rather she wanted to stress the vegetative quality of the body as it transforms into metaphor or abstract design.

You first see her simply as a curve in a steel-blue sidelight. She's standing on a platform, bending back in profile, bending slowly back and back, until she becomes a closed circle, her hands touching the back of her heels. Then she sinks to a twisted shape, a fungus or something, that lengthens slowly into the same curve but upside down. She re-forms into an S-curve, then a pod, in a light that seems to be shining nowhere else in the universe.

In another part, this one called "Axis Mundi (Tree of Life)," she again took an amorphous capsule shape. As the lights grew strong enough for one to make her out, she seemed to be squatting or lying in water. A shadow appeared on the cyclorama, and that also morphed slowly, intimating ripples, dust, a human form, several humans of different sizes. At one point I thought of an atomic cloud. The woman in the pool stretched onto her side. A hand clutched the air. She heaved to her knees, then to her feet, holding some gnarled branches that twined up her arms like snakes. A branch sprouted from her sternum. Cradling the branches, she sank to the water again and drew them over her head like a shroud.

In the last scene, she entered from one side trailing a length of white silk, and a man (Chris Odo) slowly climbed the staircase wearing a red kimono that stretched across the whole stage floor. When she began swooping and spinning with the silk swirling around her, I thought maybe her distracted frenzy, contrasted with his detachment, had to do with the After Eros referred to in the title. But that seemed too literal and too modern an interpretation.

Fleming's dance is part of an objectifying tradition that goes back to the early 20th century, when Loie Fuller and Ruth St. Denis turned themselves into flowers and flames and ancient deities. The performer resisted direct self-expression in an effort to transcend the mundane corporeality of a dancer. Fleming's stage pictures are externalizations cultivated almost to the point of stasis. They seem distanced from the mythic and psychological revelations that may have generated them.

After Eros is a period piece despite its modern technological veneer — the Philip Glass-cum-electronic score (put together by Somei Satoh), unearthly lighting by Chris Odo, and Jeff Bush's remarkable flower-kaleidoscope film. Fleming's aestheticism seems to owe a lot to the stylized, glistening icons created by the Art Nouveau painters and designers a hundred years ago. Women then exuded a mysterious power in association with water, animals, spirits of the ground; the artist could control and tame that power with line and composition and a retreat into the imagination. Fleming's verbal references to some traumatic experiences in her past seemed just a footnote to her visual fantasy.