After Eros - Boston Globe - February 24, 2002

Childhood Accident Shapes Choreographer's 'Eros'

BY CATHERINE FOSTER, GLOBE STAFF

When choreographer Maureen Fleming was 2 years old and living with her American parents in Japan, a man on a bicycle darted in front of her mother's car. Her mother slammed on the brakes, and Fleming went through the windshield. The man laughed and rode away.

In a way, that incident ended up shaping an entire career in dance, and it undergirds a work that Fleming is bringing to Boston. The multimedia piece "After Eros" will be presented by CRASHarts at the Emerson Majestic Theatre next weekend.

Fleming learned of the incident only four years ago, after a dance injury sent her to a doctor whose X-rays showed the prior impact of the crash on her vertebrae. Learning that made many things fall into place. She now understands why, as a child, she found herself inventing a type of slow, twisting dance; she believes it was her body's unconscious effort to heal itself.

"I would twist and move my body in a way that released any kind of pain," she says in a soft, gentle voice by phone from her home in New York.

From those beginnings, she went on to study ballet and modem dance. She returned to Japan frequently to study Butoh, a minimalist style that emerged in Japan after the war years, with its cofounder Kazuo Ohno. She performed with his son, Yoshito Ohno, and toured internationally with performance artist and choreographer Min Tanaka. She became an artist in residence at la Mama in New York and has taught widely.

A fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts brought her back to study in Japan for six months last year. While there she performed at Ohno's studio in Yokohama. "This was a particularly meaningful experience to me, taking the Eros myth and finding a strong sense of reconciliation," Fleming says, "to perform the piece in Yokohama, where the accident had happened."

Her father served in the military there after the war, and she has no doubt that the accident was a hostile act. "In some ways this is a tribute to this art form, which was very anti-American." The Eros myth details the twists and turns of love between the love god, Eros, and the mortal Psyche. One part of the myth that seems to link to the accident is Eros's going away, like the bicycle rider did.

"Just after [learning about the accident] we had meetings" with her collaborator, playwright David Henry Hwang. “I was trying to find the relationship with the shapes I had always created and the man on the bicycle. He asked me ‘Has he reoccurred in your life?’ We all have men on bicycles who create change in our lives. The fact that I've been back to Japan many times, not knowing of the experience, is a very feminine response. It's a regenerational thing of facing one's pain instead of running away.”

Trying to describe exactly what Fleming does is not easy. She's as much a performance artist as a dancer. The Baltimore Sun calls her work "part dance, part sculpture, part dream."

To music by Philip Glass, she performs nude, bending her body into curved shapes. At one point she stands on a black platform, appearing to float in space, and does a slow backbend into a circle. She falls in slow motion down a stair

show images of her body as landscape.

She performs "After Eros" with two men. Her husband, Chris Odo, appears onstage and is the lighting and visual designer; pianist Peter Phillips plays the Glass score. Originally the piece also contained text by Hwang that was projected above the stage, but Fleming decided after a while that seeing the words took the audience out of the state the work sought to elicit. She and her collaborators decided to drop the text but to keep the images Hwang suggested, such as Odo's wearing a 60-foot kimono while descending a staircase. Odo also spins a 6-foot silver rod very quickly which creates bands of light around his body to depict the moving of the bicycle.

Asked why she sometimes performs nude; Fleming says, "The female body has been a potent image throughout the history of art. One of the reasons it's a strong and expressive image is that it's universal. As soon as clothes are put on, there's a time and place,

"I've always looked for those elements in dance that point toward what is universal about the journey of the soul," she adds. “I do this in the hope that at some point in our evolution we can understand that we as humans share more than we are different."

Catherine Foster can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]