Transcendent, spellbinding and dreamlike could all describe Maureen Fleming’s solo performances. But none would precisely capture one’s response to experiencing her work.
Though presented as part of Contemporary Dance Theater’s Guest Artist series, Fleming’s mesmerizing choreography offers a world apart from general expectations of dance: living, breathing, even contorted sculptural forms emerge from her slow-motion movements. Time and space decelerate, drawing the audience into an entrancing atmosphere in a kind of group meditation.
Her work draws from personal and spiritual journeys stemming from her birth in Japan and her earliest years there.
“I was completely taken with this revolutionary approach to movement,” Fleming says of butoh, the minimalist, post-war Japanese form. “Butoh found me before I found butoh.”
Though her earlier training had spanned classical ballet and contemporary dance (from Cecchetti to Limón), she performed with butoh master Min Tanaka’s company before returning to Japan in 1987 to study with butoh pioneer Kazuo Ohno. Then in 1994, she learned that at age 2 she had been in a car accident with her mother that damaged discs in her neck vertebrae.
“The accident happened when I was so young it was part of my ‘normal’ reality, so I don’t believe that I recognized it as pain,” Fleming says. “Rather it was like a toothache in my spine that subsided after beginning to move. … Movement was as essential to my livelihood as eating.
“I began twisting my body into different shapes as a way of trying to compensate for the trauma that had happened in my past. Over the years, that twisting became my choreography.”
This profound discovery further fed her personal research into movement vocabulary as well as psychology, philosophy, anthropology and visual arts.
“Waters of Immortality is a sensuous multimedia celebration of the feminine archetype, inspired by the lush symbolism of Yeats,” she says of the repertoire she’ll perform here.
Live playing of Philip Glass piano compositions and Japanese bamboo flute music promise to enrich Waters’ cross-cultural multimedia tableau of dance, three-dimensional video projections and Lois Greenfield’s still photography.
Fleming has even developed her own training program, “Fleming Elastics,” based on her own regimen to maintaining flexibility and initiating movements from the deepest muscles and connective tissues.
“Butoh training emphasized natural, everyday movements rooted in the earth rather than the extreme flexibility and technical proficiency strived for in Western classical and modern dance,” Fleming says. Yet her work isn’t limited to any single inspiration.
“Although I was encouraged to discard my Western dance technique, I eventually decided it was more truthful for me to draw upon all my training to create my work,” she says. “The use of my idiosyncratic flexibility and video and photography of my choreography in my performances became signatures in my work and also my departure from the butoh aesthetic.”
Fleming seeks to transform performance into a universal language that connects peoples, cultures and art forms. She performs nude to underscore the archetypes and collective experiences she explores in her work.
“Everyone has a body,” she says of nudity’s universality. “As soon as you put on a costume, there’s a time and a place.”
(For her Cincinnati shows, she’ll be wearing a sheer body stocking to skirt potential issues with local liquor licensing laws.)
“My work asks questions: What’s universal about the journey of the soul? Is immortality an elusive paradigm we await or is immortality present in the here and now? It gives people the opportunity to contemplate those questions in a slowed-down movement environment.”
MAUREEN FLEMING performs Waters of Immortality, presented by Contemporary Dance Theater, 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Aronoff Center for the Arts. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.