Maureen Fleming’s Black Madonna at CMA (September 30)
By Mike Telin
On Friday, September 30, The Cleveland
Museum of Art opened its 2011-12 VIVA!
& Gala season at Gartner Auditorium with
choreographer Maureen Fleming’s Black
Madonna, a new evening length production
that is Ms. Fleming’s mystical response to
the 10th anniversary of the tragedy of
September 11, 2001. For this production
Ms. Fleming was re-united with two long-
time collaborators, lighting and video artist
Christopher Odo and pianist Bruce
Brubaker. Black Madonna also received
assistance from sound designer Brett Jarvis and organist Isabelle O’Connell and featured
the music of Philip Glass, Arvo Pärt and John Cage.
Although billed as a new work, Fleming tapped into the age-old tradition of artists
borrowing from themselves. Black Madonna is actually a re-conﬁguring of six previously
choreographed works: Dialogue of Self and Soul (2007), Decay of the Angel (2004),
Effulgent Wings (2010), The Sphere (2008), The Stairs (2007) and Black Madonna
(2004). Costumed with a variety of sheer body suits and long veils, all of the dances
highlighted Fleming’s signature movements: contortionist positions expanding into long
body arcs, all performed at an extremely slow pace, all of which highlighted Fleming’s
athleticism and muscular control — although depending on your point of view, many of
the movements might be better left for the privacy of one’s home.
Black Madonna greatly beneﬁted from the intriguing and visually stunning video
projections of Christopher Odo. The video Flower, directed by Fleming with lighting by
Odo and camera work by Jeff Bush, and set to Mad Rush by Philip Glass was
mesmerizing. Odo’s videography in Efﬂugent Wings, set to the second movement of
Glass’ Violin Concerto, created surreal visual effects as Ms. Fleming performed.
Pianist Bruce Brubaker proved himself to be an accomplished pianist with an afﬁnity for
minimalism, and organist Isabelle O’Connell created beautiful color textures at Gartner
Auditorium’s Holtkamp instrument, especially in the evening’s ﬁnal work, Black
Madonna, set to Dance No. 4 by Philip Glass.
While there are many things to admire about the nearly two hour production, Black
Madonna was simply too slow and too repetitive. Hopefully some revision will be done,
because minimal and contemplative does not need to mean long and slow.
In an interview with ClevelandClassical, Ms. Fleming said, “I think that one of the
perspectives that 9/11 can offer is a new awareness of our own relationship to death”.
And in her program notes she writes, “Black Madonna embodies the ﬁve stages of the
mystical cycle common to the world’s inner traditions: awakening, fulﬁllment, loss,
mourning, and reuniﬁcation with the divine.” Judging by the reaction of the large
audience on Friday, about a third understood Ms. Fleming’s translation of these thoughts
to the stage, and the remaining two thirds did not. Unfortunately, I am in the latter. I
wanted to like it.
Published on clevelandclassical.com September 13, 2011