Woodstock Times, October 13, 2005

Rebirth and transcendence at Kaatsbaan


On those rare occasions when a performance transports us to a realm beyond the ordinary, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to find words to describe the experience. The extraordinary beauty, emotional and spiritual power of Maureen Fleming's solo dance performance at Kaatsbaan last weekend left us stunned and speechless. When Fleming appeared for her curtain call and raised her bowed head to reveal the tears in her eyes, we already understood how intimately she had shared herself in a brilliant performance of Decay of the Angel.

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 dancer—slender and perfectly shaped, with extraordinary flexibility. Her willingness to literally bare herself before us is a testimony to her courage and commitment to the creative process. As a choreographer, it is her creation of metaphorical multimedia performance pieces in which she is the solo dancer that distinguishes her from her peers.

Decay of the Angel is such a work. Combining photography by Lois Greenfield, ikebana (the Japanese art of flower arranging) by Gaho Taniguchi, sound design by Brett R. Jarvis, videography by Jeff Bush and Hioshi Ohihiro, and avant-garde music by Philip Glass, Arvo Part, and Henryk Mikolaj Gorecki, Fleming created a six-pan performance piece that was performed at Kaatsbaan with a single intermission after part III. Christopher Odo is credited for the set and lighting design, Yasuko Tomonaga for costumes.

According to the program notes, Decay of the Angel “celebrates the rebirth of symbols of the mother goddess.” Using surreal poetic images based on the ancient Japanese tale of Hagoromo about an angel who returns from the sea and performs a celestial dance in order to retrieve her wings, Fleming creates a series of mesmerizing archetypal images that communicate without words. We don't need to read the program notes in order to get the powerful message Fleming delivers in this extraordinary performance piece. All we have to do is sit there and let it in.

In part I, "Sea of the Moon," Fleming hangs arched, upside down, suspended from a flesh-colored harness, circling in a single sphere of light in the distance, like the shadows on the moon. The roar of the ocean introduces part II, “Womb Mandala,” in which, still at a distance, the dancer crouches atop a rock formation in what appears to be a massive grotto. As blue light pours down on her from an opening above, she gradually moves to standing, then into a backbend, and finally into a sort of hand stand. A kaleidoscope of body parts and church bells introduce part III, "To Tear Away the Robe of Flesh." A rumbling of thunder and dramatic music accompany Fleming as she struggles against the wind that presses sheer fabric against her face and torso.

Fleming moves closer to us in the second half. During part IV, "Flower of Life," we see her reclining at the edge of a shallow circular pool of water, her long dark hair falling loosely as she slowly evolves into a standing position. Her reflection in the pool is almost as captivating as her actual form. An apple dangling from the ceiling slowly rises as she gradually moves to her feet. In part V, "Mother and Child," gigantic video images of the dancer are projected onto the far backdrop while a gorgeous soprano voice sings Gorecki’s music. The feeling is one of being embraced and protected by Mother Earth. In the final section, “Flower Revolution,” the dancer starts out on the floor, on her back, legs spread apart, while- red fairy dust sprinkles down from above. Reflected images play across the backdrop, until we actually see the angel, who has regained her "wings" (a long gauzy strip of white fabric), twirling to the ocean's roar.

Fleming has been performing every year at Kaatsbaan for the past few seasons; so don't miss her next time she's in the area.

Coming up soon is Take Dance Company, on Saturday, October 22, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, October 23, at 2:30 p.m. Artistic Director Takehiro Ueyama, a native of Japan and former Paul Taylor dancer, started his company in 2003. Call the Kaatsbaan Box Office at 845-757-5107 for reservations or visit the websile al www. kaatsbaan.org for more information.