Reviews

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by Peer


“This group is one of the earliest interdisciplinary groups in the Bay Area. Their quiet experiments in gesture have had an impact in dance and performance art here and in New York. In fact, they are better known in New York. Their work is exceptional.”
George Coates, George Coates Performance Works, San Francisco


Gli Insetti, [Fisher’s] collaboration with the composer Robert Hughes, employs a style of super realism in dance imagery that I have never seen used by another dancer.... In the mode of purest dance it passed through moments when this observer felt that he was in the presence of the most authoritative demonstration of the mechanics of insect movement and attitude. That such originality could be presented in so high a degree of accomplishment and refinement was amazing. She is, in my opinion, the outstanding dancer/choreographer of her generation in the San Francisco Bay Area.”    Robert Ashley, composer and Director, Center for Contemporary Music, Mills College, Oakland, CA


“Don’t let the funny name put you off. The Cat’s Paw Palace is genuinely THE place in the Bay Area for unusual performances of music which require a flexible seating arrangement and a congenial environment for new instrumental and electronic chamber music.”
Charles Amirkhanian, composer and Music Director, Pacifica Radio, KPFA-FM, Berkeley


by Press

“East and West Meet on Stage.” Experimental Intermedia, NYC
The New York Times,

[Fisher] also performed an eight-part suite, Splitting, that involved an extensive vocabulary of body movements. It was a fascinating work, for while the succession of movements seemed to have no linear organizing principle, it maintained a coherent flow and built up a kind of rhythmic drive, analogous to the sort of thing one finds in contemporary jazz that achieves momentum without recourse to articulated metrical divisions. Miss Fisher evidenced a beguiling personal style; it would be nice to see more of her work on the East Coast.

“An obsessive miniaturist teases, baffles.” Moving Space, Portland, OR
Willamette Weekly,

Fisher seems to invent rhythm as she goes. Her sense of how to show it to us--how to group her phrases into ‘sentences’ and her sentences into ‘paragraphs’--gives her dancing the character of speech without its telling us any news more explicit than, ‘I am dancing’.... Fisher would be a striking presence were she merely to walk around the room, and there were moments when she engaged in repetitive motion that simple. At one point she methodically splashed her face with water about 30 times.... Later, an entire section consisted of her carefully scratching her left ankle with her right foot. But these obsessions functioned as widely spaced rests between some of the most marvelous episodes of small-scale dancing we are likely to see all year.

“Dancing Beyond Words.” ODC Theater, San Francisco
Bay Arts Review,

Once in a rare while a choreographer emerges whose work transcends existing technical limitations and eludes categorization. Margaret Fisher is such an artist.... Fisher calls her technique ‘cellular movement,’ a sort of alphabet of gesture. With this technique she decisively breaks quite a few choreographic traditions. Articulate movements originate from all parts of the body, crossing and spiraling through the torso. They have a rhythmical pattern more akin to that of poetry or speech than music, and nuances of emotion flit through with the naturalness of a casual conversation. Her choreography possesses a logic beyond words.

“Margaret Fisher in Three Pieces.” Dance Theatre Workshop, Out-of-Towner Series
The New York Times,

There's something strange but very potent going on at the American Theater Laboratory this weekend. Up the stairs, through a corridor and on to your seat in the little loft theater, and suddenly you are plunged into a bizarre but magical world ... a place very like the interior of a Joseph Cornell box in its simplicity, playfulness and inviting privacy. Miss Fisher is a one-of-a-kind choreographer. Hers is a vision informed by the kind of innate purposefulness of things in nature. And the sources to which her dance refers have been absorbed to the point where the dance is a seamless weave of flowing, layering images from all the arts. NYTimes online.

“Theater as Canvas.” The San Francisco International Theatre Festival
Artweek,

Somewhere in the middle of “Il Miglior Fabbro” from Le Posizioni Veneziane, a new performance by Margaret Fisher and Robert Hughes, I experienced one of those revelations which forever afterward changes the perception of the recipient. It was signaled by one word: “theater”.... It was precipitated by a certain built-up, magical quality of theatrical ambiance and interaction which is suggested by few performance pieces I have seen. It lasted only a second, and it added more to my understanding of performance art and the ways in which it differs from theater than hours of viewing actual events.

I became acutely aware that participants in a visual arts performance are observers and narrators of certain phenomena, whereas actors in the theater create the phenomena for the audience to observe. For the first time I understood why I never felt comfortable with the notion of performance art as sculpture. Performance is somewhat closer to painting, as painting and performance art have a narrative flatness that theater and sculpture escape by virtue of an additional but dissimilar dimension.... Fisher alone and Fisher and Hughes together have succeeded in creating crisp, colorful images with an intensity usually found in the most meticulously executed dramatic productions. The accumulated effect of these images leaves one not only with an expanded view of the perfomer’s talents but also with a magnified impression of the confines of theater and performance art.

“T e c h n o - c r a f t.” Dance Theatre Workshop, New York
The Soho News,

Fisher never rushes anything; she uses time in a quiet, almost languid manner.... Her musical sense is so acute that movement and music become a single, indivisible entity. This is a true blending of media.... Integrating movement, multimedia technology, music and her own poetry, Margaret Fisher’s brand of performance art is a seamless, cohesive whole.

... Fisher’s careful, attentive approach to multimedia leads performance art toward intelligent maturity. She’s left the electronically self-conscious ’70s behind, outgrown the adolescent display of technology. Still, that didn't prohibit her from beginning Splitting with her fist up a plucked chicken’s ass.

“Maschere romane e mimi dall’America.” Biennale di Venezia
Giornale di Sicilia,

Indisputable technical perfection!

One expects something groundbreaking given an event like the Biennale, or at least something different from the usual theatre fare. Only “Gli insetti” and “Splitting” managed to fulfill this expectation.... From what unknown source does Fisher draw to be able to move the smallest parts of her body with rhythms entirely different from those we are used to?

“Zero Gravity and the Image Bank, Ma Fish Co’s True and False Occult”
Dance Magazine,

Exploration of movement in space on the horizontal plane is an unusual and striking aspect of Fisher’s work.... Throughout the evening-length presentation, designed to suggest the theme of floating objects without reference to a fixed horizon or a fixed narrative, which combines visual projections and choreographed movement, the audience sees the side of a construction flooded with the text of a poem of a teapot pouring arc after arc of words into the air. Disembodied heads float quietly up and down the steep slope of a corrugated, two-dimensional representation of Fujiyama, and the dancers incorporate the broad, flowing gestures of sign language into their movements, providing a percussive, kinetic accompaniment to Fisher’s body as it swims and moves horizontally.

“Artful Intellect.” The Lab, 100% Concentrated Dance, San Francisco
The San Francisco Bay Guardian,

Fisher has developed a reputation for multimedia pieces that are demanding puzzles, tightly structured and pervaded by a stillness and internal quiet that is almost meditative. Her works touch on philosophy, poetry, painting, astronomy and mathematics from both the Eastern and Western traditions. It helps to have a liberal education that supposedly teaches you to perceive relationships between disparate areas of knowledge, but she insists – correctly, I think – that it’s not necessary. You can enjoy her shows on a purely sensual level.

For Room of Dis, which she premiered at New Langton Gallery this spring and then reworked for The Lab’s “100% Concentrated Dance” series, she took a one-sentence Cocteau story about a chameleon who gets moved to a plaid cloth and eventually dies. Sitting about three feet from Fisher, who danced practically the whole piece without displacing her feet, you were drawn into a movement vocabulary that focused on the torso and upper body. Often she looked very flat and two-dimensional. With her long arms she would carefully circumscribe the air space around her, sometimes only pushing the index finger and the thumb together on an extended arm, or twitch a muscle on an inclined head, or roll her eyes the way Kathak dancers do. The experience was entrancing, but also so intimate that you felt like a peeping Tom intruding into a private world.

“Symphony Director, Eastbay Dancer Team in Performanc Art.” San Francisco International Theater Festival
Oakland Tribune,

It opens on a strange set of a huge, white triangle studded with small Japanese fans. Fisher... directs a pattern of [projected] text across the triangle set.... The efffect is magical, suggesting a patterned and rhythmic base to this silent text. Later, another little block of words enters the space in the same way, just as a corps of dancers might repeat the same entrance path in a classical ballet.

“ ‘Dis’ is simple, subtle, 100 percent charming.” The Lab, San Francisco
The Tribune,

“Room of Dis,” based on a short, short story by Jean Cocteau, takes the notion of internally generated movement to fresh and visually rich new extremes. Dance movement alone is only one small element of “Room of Dis,” which on the surface is a tale of a pet chameleon who is put on a piece of plaid to keep him warm and who ultimately dies of exhaustion.... But it’s really the subtle interplay and overlapping of each element of the performance - the lighting, music, movement and text - that mesh to form the work’s web of narrative.

The second part of the program was given over to Fisher’s 1987 16mm film, “Under the Bull's Eye,” a piece that seems, at least at the outset, neither right nor subtle.... [It] depicts quite graphically suicide and sodomy...

The final lesson of the evening seemed to come in retrospect as one compared the child-like simplicity of the “Room of Dis” with the dark, sordid scenes in “Bull’s Eye.” Art has the capacity to take us to these two extremes of human existence, but it’s rare to be jerked so abruptly from one to the other in the course of a single evening.

“Mutating Dance.” Mue Danse Festival, Montreal
Mirror,

A far cry from the sparse staging of the French choreographers is the work of veteran performance artist Margaret Fisher and composer Robert Hughes. In Il Miglior Fabbro, War Nerves, and The Bride Stripped Bare, Fisher’s strong visual arts background is evident, but nothing is static, from her insect movements in Il Miglior Fabbro to the Bride, a perpetual internal combusion machine in The Bride Stripped Bare.

“A Man's Passion for Bugs.” San Francisco International Theatre Festival
San Francisco Chronicle,

Dancer Margaret Fisher and composer Robert Hughes (director of the Oakland Symphony Youth Orchestra) are currently performing a beautiful synthesis of dance, music, theater and visual art called “Le Posizioni Veneziane.” Originally created for the Venice Biennale, the piece is ... divided into two episodes. The first, based on the works of a 19th century entomologist, reflects the scientist’s passionate attachment to his field of study.... The second episode depicts the detached attitude of the modern scientist.... If you are thinking of venturing into performance art, “Le Posizioni Veneziane” would be a good place to start.

“ParaReview.” Paranarrative Dance Festival, P.S.1, New York
The Village Voice,

The second weekend on Sunday was terrific. Margaret Fisher, Tim Miller, and Johanna Boyce’s pieces were unusual and exciting. Fisher’s The Shot fused American sign language and dance in a spare work of rare visual beauty. While Robert Ashley’s mesmerizing words and music slipped around the ears, Sue Yabroff, Fisher and Margaret Ransom spoke in the elegant silent language of the deaf. Lying on tiny clear plexiglass benches, their heads towards us, each wearing a colorful hat, Yabroff and Ransom flanked a minute table on its side set with black cups and saucers. The illusion was one of looking down on a coffee klatch from the top of a very high building. Tête-a-tête, their hands wove in eloquent speech. Fisher knelt on her plexiglass, signing in larger looping gestures, letting us in on that quiet world of visualized words.

“La scuola di San Francisco fa capolino al carnevale di Venezia.” Biennale di Venezia
Il Manifesto,

San Francisco theatre takes the lead at the Carnival of Venice. A small group of performers from San Francisco gathered here, somewhat like a brand, but not well known. If in fact that names Ed Mock or Paul Cotton or Margaret Fisher or the dell’Arte company are not yet theatrical legends that is no reason not to pay attention. For example, take Margaret Fisher, confined within the tight space of Teatro L’Avogaria, who has solved the dilemma of how the public can possibly choose what to see that is far superior to the theatrical norm.

“Ma Fish Dance Co.” Bay Area Dance Festival, Oakland
Movement Theatre Quarterly,

Ma Fish Co, in collaboration with Bay Area composer Charles Shere, opened a new dance-mime creation in commemoration of ... Marcel Duchamp’s seminal painting on glass, The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even.... The theatricality of the piece is enhanced by the work of Grotowski-trained Jocelyne Danchick as assistant director. Sets by Jerry Carniglia intrigue the spectator with their stark simplicity.... The use of a host of machinery and mechanical devices continually awes the spectator.... Pianist Eliane Lust ... and her piano are pulled on stage by a dancer ... in chains.... Costumes by Cynthia DuVal effectively adapt to the ambience. Where one art begins and the other ends is difficult to determine. What becomes evident is that Fisher’s collaboration with composer Shere represents a total theatre art form. It is such a rare treat to view a work that renders homage to the dadaist spirit of Duchamp's masterpiece.

“Dance Steps.” Dance Theatre Workshop, New York
Fusion Arts Review,

It was the aura of tension, of pent-up energy [in “The True and False Occult”] that has no greater release than the flick of a wrist or the unfolding of a fan, that provided the greatest interest of the evening in a series of dreamlike tableaux. In one scene, ‘floating heads’ appear to glide up and down an accordion-pleated paper screen. They engage in a wordless dialogue of glances and hand gestures, drift apart, puff langorously away on cigarettes, then set up a paper 'sail' and begin ominously rowing to nowhere.... The connection between the dance and the logos is obvious enough, as multi-lingual puns, repeated references to water, time, and history are brought to life in the dancing.

“Para-Narrative.” P.S.1, Para-Narrative Festival, New York
Alive Magazine,

If I’ve neglected to talk about the good work at ParraNarrative that’s not because there wasn’t any. There were a host of dances that fit into the flawed-but-interesting category, works by: Yoshiko Chumo, Pooh Kaye, Margaret Fisher, Kathy Duncan, Jane Comfort and Johanna Boyce.... All used a kind of elemental critical consciousness that resulted in dances that fundamentally situated the audience (as well as the choreographer and the dancers) in the work’s production of meaning.

“Choreographing Community: Dancing in the Kitchen.” The Kitchen, New York
Dance Chronicle,

The second season [at the Kitchen], presented in the fall of 1978 and the spring of 1979, included works by Andy deGroat, Lucinda Childs, William Dunas, Kenneth King, Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane, Margaret Fisher, and Grethe Holby. By now, the artist’s fee for each choreographer had risen to $400 plus fifty percent of box-office receipts, and the contract now stipulated that the work must be a New York premiere, “as advertised,” and that “no other concerts may be given within a 50-mile radius within 90 days before and after without approval.”

“Multicultural Mystifications.” KALA, Seeing Time Festival
Artweek,

Little Sodomy Piece, though biculturally enigmatic in some ways, provided Toyoji Tomita with the context in which to give a rare and powerful performance. Accompanied by Hughes’s hypnotically compelling score that layered tracks on which his playing of a Korean piri sounded like the wailing of six weasels in heat, costumed and made-up to resemble a Japanese ghost character, Tomita crouched, grinning into the lights, and then was overwhelmed by his passions. He combined the slow, deliberate movements of Japanese butoh with the falls and rolls of Western dance. He sucked on a toe, touched some erogenous zone on his thigh and ritualistically dry-humped an[other performer] slumped over a [monitor] illuminated with the design of a boot. At no time did the explicit connotations detract from the gripping continuity or terrible dignity of Tomita’s presentation of anguished compulsion.

“New Plays Festival.” Humana Festival of New American Plays, Louisville
The San Francisco Chronicle,

In short, to find out exactly what’s happening in contemporary American theater, you have to go beyond Louisville: to Joe Papp's Public Theater or Marshall Mason's Circle Rep in New York, the Goodman in Chicago, the Magic in San Francisco or the Bay Area experimental artists (Chris Hardman, Laura Farabough, George Coates, Alan Finneran, Margaret Fisher, Winston Tong, Bill Irwin, et al.).

“Entrancing performance by the Arch Ensemble.” Mills College, Oakland CA
The Tribune,

A collaboration between sound-text poet-composer Charles Amirkhanian and dancer-stage designer Margaret fisher, ‘Egusquiza to Falsetto’ was visually extremely handsome....Gradually half the band alternated a rhythmic repeated chord with a simple melodic line; the other half began chanting concrete poetry—‘cinema chime crime, cinema chime’ and so on...‘Egusquiza’ broke off too soon. Its arbitrarily encyclopedic, unlinear visual and musical logic could contain more.