Through the ages, dancers have embodied ideal possibilities of human form and movement, and the pathfinders among them have ever sought to extend those possibilities. Perhaps it's not surprising, then, that in our own day, with its painful awareness of diminishing fuels and natural resources, an individual should appear who seems to incarnate an unlimited, self-replenishing fount of motoric energy. Such an individual is 27-year-old Molissa Fenley, a dancer-choreographer from New York who's been making big waves in the dance ocean lately, and who had her area debut at the Washington Project for the Arts last night.
On grounds of stamina and virtuosity alone, Fenley qualifies as a phenomenon. Short and blunt, she moves with the speed and impact of a bullet; her explosive attack reminds one of Edward Villella. In the longest of her three solos -- around 15 minutes -- she whizzed through intricate step combinations, jumps, spins, and twists, suddenly snapping her head in an arc, her arms slicing and thrusting in counterpoint to her torso, all at an incredibly rapid, unremitting rate of pulsation. Even at point-blank range, one could hear no intake of breath or see more than a hint of perspiration. To all appearances, she could go on like this forever, if she herself didn't press her "off" button at a predetermined instant.
Born in Las Vegas, Fenley was raised in Nigeria; African dance, she claims, had a deep subliminal influence on her future course. After studies at Mills College, she presented her first work in New York in 1978. sThe WPA program, consisting of two segments of "Energizer" -- originally for duet and quartet, but reduced here to solo format -- and the premiere of "Peripheral Vision," represents her most recent efforts.
All three pieces are like variants of a single germinal concept. The music, a sort of electronic disco (by Fenley), mostly) in the Steve Reich-Philip Glass mold, sets forth an iterative rhythmic labyrinth that becomes the ground plan of the choreography. If the movement patterns could be traced, one has the feeling they'd resemble the convoluted grids of microcomputer circuitry. Indeed, Fenley has taken dance minimalism a step beyond; she's siphoned movement down to the subatomic level, where particles move so fast they blur into waves, and mass and energy seem identical.