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Molissa Fenley and Bebe Miller combine choreography talents in their first collaboration.

Come Together


When an extraordinary dancer comes to town, it's always welcome news. When two visit our city, it doubles the fortune. On March 30, Richmond will reap the benefits of this unusual occurrence when highly acclaimed dancers/choreographers Molissa Fenley and Bebe Miller perform solos and a joint work for "The Concerts Divide" at Grace Street Theater.

Although familiar with each other's work, the women have never before collaborated on a project. Both modernists, their styles differ vastly. Fenley's aesthetic tends toward athleticism and sharp, often frenetic, movements that make great use of her upper body. Fenley was born in Nigeria, and lived for a time in Spain; her Asian-influenced dance is precise, highly technical and abstract.

Miller's ongoing interest has been with identity, specifically black identity. Her pieces often include distinctive gestures and sayings identified with a group or individual. Less abstract than Fenley, her performances use chants and dialogue as an investigation into the borders between people.

Fenley looks forward to working with Miller, despite the great differences in their work. "We got together, gave each other five concepts and decided upon two," she explains of their process. "Mine is how the land folds on itself. Bebe's is using feet as antennae." On their own, they've been developing their sections and will get together in the studio a few times before the performance to determine the intersections of their work.

Neither can claim the idea to collaborate as her own. That honor goes to their mutual agent who suggested it as a way to ensure booking. "Unless you're with 'River Dance' or Merce Cunningham, opportunities for performing are disappearing," Fenley says. "So many alternative spaces have lost funding. Whereas before a space might have six or nine different artists, now it's more like two or three."

In addition to their duet, the concert will features solos by each dancer. Fenley will perform "Tala," with John Cage music, a classic modern-dance piece that makes use of tight, confined movements along diagonals. "Pola's," (Hawaiian for "ocean"), with music by Lou Harrison, travels across the entire stage. It is, says Fenley, "large in space." Miller will perform "Rhythm Studies," an autobiographical work that marks her return to the importance of rhythm and is her first solo in 10 years. Much like her previous pieces, "Rhythm Studies" also uses vocalizations.

Both women have performed in Richmond before, Fenley as part of Fast/Forward in 1993 and Miller in 1998 at Virginia Commonwealth University. Miller's was the first American company to be invited to dance in South Africa, a relationship that continues to this day. Fenley, an artist-in-residence at the Dia Center for the Arts in New York for nearly 10 years, created a virtual work specifically for that organization's Web site. With more than 20 years of dance experience, their return to Richmond offers a rare opportunity to witness two fine solos and to see, also, the result of their joint

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