Decay of the Angel - Boston Globe, February 22, 2004

‘Angel’ pushes limits of human body’s form


In the artistry of dancer/choreographer Maureen Fleming, the body is not only used for personal expression but as a vehicle for transformation and spiritual transcendence. An arm uncurling becomes a flower in bloom. A leg slowly extending becomes the moving limb of a piece of dramatic driftwood. Gauzy cloth billowing in an unseen wind becomes a shroud one moment, wings the next.

Fleming's new "Decay of the Angel," which was given its Boston premiere Friday night, is a paean to the "mother goddess," inspired by the ancient Japanese tale of a fisherman who finds an angel's wings in the branches of a tree and trades them back to her for one celestial dance. Though captivatingly beautiful, Fleming's luminous solo vignettes are less dance in the traditional sense than a series of slowly evolving poetic contortions. Grounded in the postwar Japanese dance form "butoh" (Fleming was born in Japan to American parents), her moving sculptures are stark distillations.

Christopher Odo's stunning set, light, and visual design, as well as video and gorgeous photography by Lois Greenfield, give Fleming's striking movement imagery vivid context. She performs most of the work in the nude, which makes the shapes both cleaner and more abstract in the play of light and shadows. Sometimes it gives her an air of vulnerability as her body twists and knots in on itself. At other times, it graces her movements with breathtaking power, as when she seems to grow from the very earth itself into an open blossom.

Fleming's commitment, control, and flexibility are stunning, seeming to defy limitations. And after seeing her work, one would be hard pressed to look at the human body in quite the same way again.