Decay of the Angel - Boston Herald, February 20, 2004

‘Angel’ a rumination beyond good, evil


Last summer, I met a mysterious, beautiful woman at a patio barbecue in Cambridge. She mentioned that she watched a lot of contemporary dance. And when I asked her to name the best thing she'd seen that year, she didn't hesitate.

"Oh, definitely Maureen Fleming," she said, while smiling like the Mona Lisa, as if she'd just remembered a delightful secret.

It's not surprising that CRASHarts has invited choreographer Fleming back to Boston for performances this weekend at the Cutler Majestic Theatre. Her astonishing "After Eros" was such a hit last year that Fleming quickly earned a cult following in this city.

The best way to start talking about her new work, "Decay of the Angel," is through the contemporary ikebana by Gaho Taniguchi, the Japanese ikebana artist.

What if Jackson Pollock had worked with live flowers instead of buckets of paint? "That's the best comparison I can make about (Taniguchi's) work," Fleming said.

Taniguchi uses live safflowers for their medicinal qualities, and also because they originated in Egypt and eventually made their way to Japan via the ancient Silk Road.

"It is a flower `without borders,' and Gaho felt this was significant for a work seeking to exist beyond borders of art forms and cultures," Fleming added.

Fleming's initial inspiration for "Decay of the Angel" came from a Noh play she saw while living in Japan. The ancient story, "Hagoromo," focuses on a fisherman who finds the cloth of an angel's wings caught in a branch by the sea. The angel returns from the sea to retrieve the wings, but first she must perform a "celestial dance" for the fisherman before he will return the wings.

"The idea that the angel needs to discover a celestial dance to regain the wings, I felt, was so emblematic of something that we are all dealing with," said Fleming. "At a personal level, but also that whole Sept. 11 experience of the idea of the loss of wings. I find that such an interesting challenge for us, for all human beings. What is that celestial dance for each person? What allows us to regain our wings?"

Fleming said the story sparked a series of thoughts that made her look backward to the origins of the feminine archetype.

"In 20,000 B.C., man's first connection to what was celestial had to do with the connection between the woman's cycle and the moon," said Fleming. "This is one reason why the female body was an icon in the cave paintings and many sculptures that were found in grain bins and other places from this time period. Around 1,750 B.C. there was a shift that had to do with herding cultures. That was the birth of the concept of the domination of animals. What followed was the birth of the idea of wars of destruction. So, with the birth of patriarchal ideology came the idea of domination of nature and the wars of annihilation. I began to think, well, how does that connect to the idea of the angel?"

As she explained her train of thought, Fleming didn't demonstrate anger and resentment. There's something dreamlike about her speech, and she ruminated over these intricate themes in the way a Zen master might slowly explain a very complicated teaching.

"In my work, I always try to create points of reflection for the viewers, so that they can contemplate their existence now," Fleming said.

"Here, I am very interested in the idea of the angel and the fisherman being inside one person. It's not just about the bad guy and the good guy. And in reflection of the whole political situation we're involved in right now, this is an important first step, moving beyond that and really looking toward this idea that there are choices beyond right and wrong."

"Decay of the Angel" runs tonight at 7:30 and tomorrow at 8 p.m. The performance contains nudity. Tickets are $25-$35. Call CRASHarts at 617-876-4275 or Telecharge at 800-233-3123, or go to

Caption: HEAVENLY: CRASHarts brings choreographer Maureen Fleming's `Decay of the Angel,' which reflects on the nature of existence, to the Cutler Majestic Theatre this weekend.