Molissa Fenley

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Molissa Fenley is an American choreographer, performer and teacher of contemporary dance.

Early Life and Education[edit]

Molissa Fenley (née Avril Molissa Fenley) was born in Las Vegas, Nevada on November 15, 1954. She is the youngest of three children born to Eileen Allison Walker and John Morris Fenley. At the age of six months Fenley and her family moved to Ithaca, NY where her father was a professor of Agricultural Extension at Cornell University. At the age of six, her family moved to Ibadan, Nigeria where her father worked for the US State Department’s USAID program. Fenley attended high school in Spain, and at 16 returned to the US where she received her BA in Dance from Mills College in 1975.[1] Immediately after graduating from Mills, Fenley moved to New York City to begin her career as a choreographer and dancer.[2]

Career[edit]

Early career[edit]

Upon arriving in New York City in 1975, Fenley trained with Merce Cunningham, Viola Farber and studied at the Erick Hawkins School.[3] During her first years in New York Fenley danced for several choreographers including Carol Conway and Andrew deGroat.[4] She began creating her own work and formed Molissa Fenley and Dancers in 1977. After a tour of European festivals in 1980 her work began to receive more critical attention in the United State and abroad.[5] Her early career (1977-1987) was focused on presenting ensemble work. Fenley and her dancers displayed remarkable stamina through complex patterning and sustained passages of intense speed, exemplified in works such as Energizer (1980). In addition to more traditional dance classes, Fenley and her dancers did workouts that included running, calisthenics and weight training in order to achieve the strength and endurance needed to execute her physically demanding choreography. Fenley has maintained this aesthetic of athletic virtuosity throughout her career.[6][7]

Solo Work[edit]

In 1987 she disbanded her ensemble and made a shift to performing solo works, often in collaboration with visual artists including Kiki Smith, Richard Long and Tatsuo Miyajima and composers such as Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson, Pauline Oliveros.[8] It was during this period that she created her seminal work, State of Darkness (1988), which was commissioned by the American Dance Festival in Durham, N.C. Set to Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps, this 35 minute solo received critical acclaim for both its physical rigor, innovative use of Stravinsky’s score and intense sense of ritual drama.[9] Fenley reconstructed State of Darkness in 1999 at the request of New York City Ballet principal dancer Peter Boal, and again in 2007 for Pacific Northwest Ballet.[10] ‘’State of Darkness’’ received a Bessie Award for both Fenley’s original performance in 1989 and for Boal’s reconstruction in 1999.

Current Work[edit]

After a decade of solo work, Fenley began creating ensemble pieces performed by herself and her company. She continues to create and perform in the United States and abroad.[11] Fenley has maintained a long-time collaboration with composer Philip Glass and continues to collaborate with visual artists, composers and writers. Recent works include The Vessel Stories (2011), choreographed to music by Glass and featured at the Days and Nights Festival in Carmel, CA, and Credo in Us (2011) set to the John Cage piece of the same name and performed at the Mills College Art Museum and the Judson Memorial Church in New York City. She is currently working on a new project, entitled Found Object, with playwright John Guare, and writers Joy Harjo, Bob Holman, Rudy Wurlitzer. A book titled Rhythm Field: The Dance of Molissa Fenley containing essays by Fenley and her colleagues is due to be published in 2014.[12] Over the course of her career Fenley has created over 75 works, which have been presented in the United States, South America, Europe, Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong.[13] Her work has been commissioned by the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Seattle Dance Project, Marymount Manhattan College, The American Dance Festival, Deutsche Opera Ballet of Berlin, Robert Moses’ Kin, The Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts, the William Hale Harkness Foundation, The New National Theater, Tokyo, The Ohio Ballet, Australian Dance Theater, The Brooklyn Academy of Music, and Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.[14]

Recognition and Professional Affiliations[edit]

Fenley’s contribution to her field has been recognized with awards in the United States and internationally. She is an eleven-time recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Choreography Fellowship.[15] Fenley received a Bessie Award for Choreography in 1985 for her work Cenotaph and again in 1988 for State of Darkness. Fenley received a 2000 Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists Award.[16] She is a Guggenheim Fellow (2008), a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome (2008) and recipient of the American Masterpieces Initiative from the National Endowment of the Arts (2010).[17] Fenley is a member of many professional arts organizations such as the Atlantic Center for the Arts, American Dance Guild, Asian Cultural Council, CHIME Mentorship program, Dance USA, International Dance Council and New York Live Arts. She is the Executive Director of the Momenta Foundation which she founded in 1986.[18] Mills College and Higher Education Teaching In addition to being one of Mills College’s most esteemed alumna, Fenley has been on the Mills College Dance Department faculty since 1999. She began as a Distinguished Visiting Professor in 1999 and became an Associate Professor of Dance in 2006. She was made Full Professor in 2013. Fenley teaches courses in technique, choreography and oversees MFA candidates’ thesis projects. Additionally, Fenley often sets work on Mills College’s Repertory Dance Company. She was awarded the Mills College Sarlo Excellence in Teaching Award in 2011.[19] Extensive archives from Fenley’s career are held at the F.W. Olin Library’s Special Collections on Mills campus.[20] Fenley has taught as a Visiting Lecturer at New York University’s Experimental Theater Wing, University of Georgia at Athens and University of Utah. She worked as a Resident Artist for the Baryshnikov Arts Center, The Atlantic Center for the Arts, The American Academy in Rome, Bard College, The Hotchkiss School, The Asian Cultural Council in Tokyo, and Harvard University.[21]

Personal life[edit]

Fenley resides in New York, NY and Oakland, CA. She is married to painter Roy Fowler.

Major Works[edit]

Horizon, (2013), music by Pauline Oliveros

Found Object (2012), collaboration with Peiling Kao

Cross Bridge, (2012), collaboration with Holley Farmer, John Jesurun, David Moodey and Rosemary Quinn

Credo In Us, (2011), music by John Cage. Commissioned by the Mills College Art Museum

The Vessel Stories (2011), music by Philip Glass

The Prop Dances (2010)

Pieces of Land, props by Jene Highstein, music by Jason Hoopes
94 Feathers, props by Merrill Wagner, music by Cenk Ergün
Mass Balance, prop by Todd Richmond, music by Cenk Ergün
Planes in Air, props by Roy Fowler, music by Joan Jeanrenaud
Prop Dance #5, props by Keith Sonnier, music by Lainie Fefferman

Regions (Revival), (2010), set by Roy Fowler, with music by Maggi Payne

Double Beginning (2009), with spoken word by Bob Holman

Ice, Dew, Food, Crew, Ape (2009), with music by Alvin Curran

Cosmati Variations (2008), with music by John Cage

Calculus and Politics (2007), with music by Harry Partch. Commissioned by The Joyce Theater

Four Lines, (2006), with music by Jon Gibson

Dreaming Awake, (2006), with music by Philip Glass. Commissioned by the Rovereto Music Festival, Rovereto, Italy

Patterns and Expectations, (2006), with music by Fred Frith

Desert Sea, (2005), with music by Lou Harrison. Commissioned by Repertory Dance Theatre, Salt Lake City, Utah

Lava Field, (2004), with music by John Bischoff

Kuro Shio, (2003), with music by Bun Ching Lam. Commissioned by Women in Dance/Seoul, Korea and Tokyo, Japan

Water Courses (2003), with music by Joy Harjo

Waiting For Rain (2003), with music by Robert Ashley, set by Roy Fowler. Commissioned by Peter Boal

331 Steps (2002), with music by Laetitia Sonami, set by Merrill Wagner

Short Stories (2002), with music by Anthony Davis and in silence, costumes by Chado

Signs/Landmark (2001), with music by Somei Satoh. Commissioned by the New National Theater, Tokyo

Folds (2001), with music by Fred Frith, choreographed in collaboration with Bebe Miller. Commissioned by Virginia Commonwealth University

Ceremony(2000), text by Joy Harjo

Spring Waterfall (2000), music by Philip Glass and Foday Musa Suso

Island (2000), with music by Harold Meltzer, artwork by Carol Hepper

I and You Resemble Each Other, Now (2000), with music by Somei Satoh

Delta (2000), music by John Cage

Weathering (2000), with set by Merrill Wagner

Voices (1999), music by Kevin Volans, with cellist Joan Jeanrenaud

Timbral Inventions (1999), music by John Cage

Tala (1999), with music by John Cage. La Muse Menagére (1998) with music by Darius Milhaud

Icho (1997) music by Leroy Jenkins, commissioned by Felicia Norton

On the Other Ocean (1997) with music by David Behrman

Trace (1997) with composer Jonathan Hart Makwaia, painter Roy Fowler and writer John Jesurun. Commissioned by The Joyce Theater

Latitudes(1996), a work created for the internet, commissioned by the Dia Art Foundation

Pola'a (1996) with music by Lou Harrison. Commissioned by Jacob’s Pillow

Regions (1995) with music by Maggi Payne. Commissioned by the 92nd Street Y

Savanna (1995) with music by Peter Garland. Commissioned by Peggy Baker Dance Projects

Sita (1995) with composer Philip Glass and photographer Sandi Fellman. Commissioned by The Joyce Theater

Jalan Jalan (1994), music by Lou Harrison

Bridge of Dreams (1994) with composer Laurie Anderson and visual artist Kiki Smith. Commissioned by the Deutsche Oper Berlin

Witches' Float (1993) with composer Alvin Lucier and visual artist Kiki Smith. Commissioned by the Krannert Art Center

Sightings (1993) with composer Pauline Oliveros and sculptor Tatsuo Miyajima

Nullarbor (1993) with composer Robert Lloyd and sculptor Richard Long

Channel (1993) with composer Somei Satoh and visual artist Richard Serra

Tilliboyo/Escalay (1993) with composers Foday Musa Suso and Hamza El Din

Place (1992) with music by Arvo Pärt. Commissioned by the Foundation for Contemporary Performance Arts

Threshold (1992), with music by Somei Satoh. Commissioned by The Joyce Theater

Inner Enchantments (1991), with music by Philip Glass

Bardo (1990), with music by Somei Satoh. Commissioned by Jacob’s Pillow

Augury (1989) with music by Christopher Hyams-Hart, choreographed in collaboration with Doug Varone, commissioned by The American Dance Festival

The Floor Dances (1989) with composer Henryk Gorecki and sculptor Richard Long. Commissioned by the Dia Art Foundation

Provenance Unknown (1989), with composer Philip Glass. Commissioned by Dance Chance and The Kitchen for Video, Music and Dance

State of Darkness (1988), music by Igor Stravinsky. Commissioned by the American Dance Festival. Subsequently reconstructed for Peter Boal (1999), commissioned by Lincoln Center and for the Pacific Northwest Ballet, (2007) danced in alternation by Rachel Foster, James Moore and Jonathan Porretta

In Recognition (1988), music by Philip Glass. Commissioned by Serious Fun Festival, Lincoln Center

Separate Voices (1987), a group work performed in silence. Commissioned by The Joyce Theater

A Descent into the Maelstrom (1986) music by Philip Glass, set design by Eamon D”Arcy, direction by Matthew McGuire, commissioned by the Adelaide Festival and performed by the Australian Dance Theatre

Geologic Moments (1986), with composers Philip Glass and Julius Eastman. Commissioned by the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Next Wave Festival

Feral (1986), music by Robert Lloyd, commissioned by the Ohio Ballet

Cenotaph (1985), with composer Jamaaladeen Tacuma and text by Eric Bogosian. Commissioned by Jacob’s Pillow

Esperanto (1985), with composer Ryuichi Sakamoto. Commissioned by Tsurumoto Room, Tokyo

Hemispheres (1983), with composer Anthony Davis and visual artist Francesco Clemente. Commissioned by the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Next Wave Festival

Eureka (1982), with music by Peter Gordon. Commissioned by Dance Theater Workshop

Gentle Desire (1981), with music by Mark Freedman. Commissioned by the American Dance Festival

Peripheral Vision (1981), with music by Mark Freedman

Energizer (1980), with music by Mark Freedman. Commissioned by Dance Theater Workshop

Boca Raton (1980), extended dance mix by Paul Alexander of Talking Heads. Decor by Steven Keister

Mix (1979). Commissioned by The Kitchen for Video, Music and Dance

Video Clones' (1979), video and performance work with Keith Haring

References[edit]

  1. ^ Fenley, Molissa. Oral History Interview by Ann Murphy. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts Dance Division’s Oral History Archive and Project. 28 June 2010. Web. 1 March 2013.
  2. ^ “Molissa Fenley: Biography.” Artservices. Web. 14 February 2013.
  3. ^ Reynolds, Nancy and Malcolm McCormick. No Fixed Points: Dance in the Twentieth Century. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2003.
  4. ^ Pippin, Karma. “Guide to the Molissa Fenley Archive, 1973-Present.” F.W. Olin Library Special Collections and Archive. Web. 26 Feb 2013
  5. ^ Reynolds, Nancy and Malcolm McCormick. No Fixed Points: Dance in the Twentieth Century. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2003.
  6. ^ Reynolds, Nancy and Malcolm McCormick. No Fixed Points: Dance in the Twentieth Century. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2003.
  7. ^ Jowitt, Deborah. Time and the Dancing Image. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc. 1988
  8. ^ “Molissa Fenley: Biography.” Artservices. Web. 14 February 2013.
  9. ^ Kisselgoff, Anna. “In ‘State of Darkness’, a Dancer’s Rite of Passage” The New York Times, 8 October 1988. Print.
  10. ^ D’Aoust, Renée E. “Lowenberg at Pacific Northwest Ballet & School” The Dance Insider. July 2007. Web.
  11. ^ Molissa Fenley: Biography.” Artservices. Web. 14 February 2013.
  12. ^ Molissa Fenley and Dancers. Web. 14 Feb 2013
  13. ^ Molissa Fenley: Biography.” Artservices. Web. 14 February 2013.
  14. ^ Faculty and Staff: Molissa Fenley.” Mills College Dance Department. Web. 28 Feb 2013.
  15. ^ Pippin, Karma. “Guide to the Molissa Fenley Archive, 1973-Present.” F.W. Olin Library Special Collections and Archive. Web. 26 Feb 2013
  16. ^ http://www.foundationforcontemporaryarts.org/grant_recipients/molissafenley.html
  17. ^ Molissa Fenley: Biography.” Artservices. Web. 14 February 2013.
  18. ^ “Faculty and Staff: Molissa Fenley.” Mills College Dance Department. Web. 28 Feb 2013.
  19. ^ “Faculty and Staff: Molissa Fenley.” Mills College Dance Department. Web. 28 Feb 2013.
  20. ^ Pippin, Karma. “Guide to the Molissa Fenley Archive, 1973-Present.” F.W. Olin Library Special Collections and Archive. Web. 26 Feb 2013
  21. ^ “Faculty and Staff: Molissa Fenley.” Mills College Dance Department. Web. 28 Feb 2013.

External links[edit]