BOTTOM LINE: An intricate and challenging piece of visually vibrant dance poetry.
Internationally renowned multimedia performance choreographer Maureen Fleming premiers her piece B. Madonna at La MaMa. Created, choreographed, and performed by Fleming, the piece features text by Tony winner David Henry Hwang and music by Golden Globe winner Philip Glass. B. Madonna explores miracles through the Persephone myth, the history of Black Madonnas, and a childhood car accident Fleming’s mother later recounted to her. The performance is inspired in part by La MaMa founder Ellen Stewart and includes pianist Bruce Brubaker, Taiko drumming by Kaoru Watanabe, original accordion by Guy Klucevsek, and three-dimensional video projections by Christopher Odo.
The work itself is stunning, populated by striking visual images and a rich use of color. Fleming’s performance moves from one beautiful tableau to the next accompanied by haunting music and precise, stunning light. She uses her own body masterfully, in a way that is both visually and emotionally breathtaking, and she manipulates shaping and light to transform her body into abstractions. Her stage pictures are layers with projections on multiple levels of scrims, shadows cast to the backdrop, and reflections in a great disc of water at the front of the stage. The whole evening is complex, thoughtful, and striking.
That being said, this is deeply avant garde and not terribly accessible. Between the length, abstraction, and very specific style, it’s not a good starter show for someone wanting to get into this kind of performance. This is a show for people who already know and like this kind of work. The side effect of the consistent sustained, bound motion is a lack of dynamic, and once you’ve seen the picture Fleming has created, it is a challenge to keep your attention through the slow, methodical progression. I didn't enjoy the show, and I'm usually really game for this kind of thing. I confess this not to denigrate the work, but to emphasize that this piece is part of an incredibly specific niche.
B. Madonna is a wonderful, rich, and inspiring performance, and Maureen Fleming is deeply gifted and creative. But it is not a show for everyone. If you are not versed in butoh, movement-focused performance art, and the like, you might start off with a more manageable introduction to the style and sensibilities. Otherwise you may be left in a theatre both deeply impressed and very fatigued at the deep end of the avant garde pool (as I was).
(B. Madonna plays at La MaMa’s Ellen Stewart Theater, 66 East 4th street between Bowery and Second Avenue, through November 3, 2013. Performances are Thursdays – Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Sundays at 2:30 PM. Tickets are $25, $20 for students and seniors, and can be purchased at www.lamama.org or by calling 212-475-7710.)