I saw *State of Darkness* on 11/1/20. It’s a solo dance by Molissa Fenley, originally danced by Fenley in 1988, danced to a recording of Stravinsky’s *The Rite of Spring.* I read in the NY Times about a series of dancers doing the piece at the Joyce here in town, and the performances would be filmed and streamed live online. I looked at the lineup and was excited to see Sara Mearns on the list. I had seen Mearns onstage twice: once in the lead of the musical *I Married an Angel* at Encores and more memorably as one of the 25 dancers in the Merce Cunningham centenary celebration at BAM. She’s an extraordinary dancer, and even though she’s a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, she’s clearly interested in exploring other types of dance in particular and performance in general.
May I share one quibble, before I get started? Mearns danced to a great recording of the piece, and while the credits at the end of the performance listed many people connected to the production and the Joyce, nowhere did they list the orchestra or the conductor. Which is not acceptable.
Fenley became interested in *The Rite of Spring* after seeing the Joffrey Ballet’s reconstruction of the original production on PBS. I saw that too, and was CRAZY for it. Fenley decided to do a solo dance to the score, unrelated to the story of the original ballet. She wanted to do a new dance to the music, on her own terms.
It was thrilling to see a new (or at least unfamiliar) dance to this very familiar music. Fenley’s choreography uses an intriguing mix of movement and stillness, just what I love in dance. Mearns danced with poetry and mastery, so expressive and powerful. Like the greatest artists, she gave the impression of having such a solid technique that she could do whatever she wanted, always at the service of the piece.
There’s nothing more exciting than seeing a great artist at the peak of their abilities, doing a tour de force performance! I immediately thought of four examples of this that I’ve been fortunate enough to witness:
Anne Sophie von Otter in recital
Karita Matilla as Salome
Catherine Malfitano in *The Makropoulos Case*
Isabelle Huppert in *4:48 Psychosis*
I’m adding Mearns in *State of Darkness* to that exclusive list. Interesting that they’re all women.
The ending was suitably manic. Fascinating that the music is over a hundred years old but it still sounds incredibly fresh, and yes, MODERN. Fenley’s choreography was extraordinary and Means was a marvel.
This video shows little clips from the dance, done by three different dancers. Mearns is the blonde woman: