Ag Nature

Ag Nature  was commissioned by the Jerome Foundation of St. Paul, Minnesota for Dance Theatre Workshop in New York. Julius Webster, left, as Pulcinella and Margaret Fisher as Little Dot in the 1985 performance.  Photo © Tom Brazil.
Video below

About the work

Ag(ainst) Nature spans the centuries and the seasons through three cities (Venice, Hiroshima, New York) while taking for its subject the Western literary remnants of two crimes once considered grave in an agricultural age. Usury bypassed the actual production of goods in the quest for profits; sodomy thwarted reproduction, because semen was spent. In the 13th Century, Dante coupled the two crimes in the Seventh of the Eight Circles of his Inferno. Because every age assigns new values, Ag Nature places Dante at his light table with a mandate to dislodge the usurers and sodomists from his Seventh Circle and from all the centuries since. In doing so, he comes upon Pulcinella.

The 1983 dance “War Nerves” was later incorporated into Ag Nature, and in 1987 MAFISHCO made a 16mm film Ag Nature titled Under the Bull's Eye, produced by International Performance Network. The 1988 MAFISHCO performance work Vice Versa will reprise the theme of Dante and the inversion of values.


  • Direction, Choreography:  Margaret Fisher
  • Music: Robert Hughes, Charles Amirkhanian; with additional music by the Sinawi Ensemble
  • Lighting: Jeff Fontaine, Jim Quinn
  • Set Design: Jerry Carniglia
  • Artwork: Ethel Fisher, Sylvia Luftig
  • Costume Design: Jacqueline Humbert
  • Projection systems and gizmos: Michael Bush, Toyoji Tomita
  • Performers: Margaret Fisher, Janet Jaffe, Marla Carlson, Melinda McGee, Toyoji Tomita, Julius Webster
  • Vocalists: Brenda Chandlers, Robin Roy


  • “Multicultural Mystifications,”  Anthony Reveaux, Artweek, August 24, 1985.  “‘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.... At no time did the explicit connotations detract from the gripping continuity or terrible dignity of Tomita’s presentation of anguished compulsion.”

  • “Limited Space cramps Fisher’s exhilarating style,”   Janice Ross, The Tribune, August 10, 1985   “Fisher, the second artist in Kala’s summer performance series [Seeing Time Festival], creates mesmerizing theater works – dense layerings of stories, visions and subplots.... Over the last several years, as Fisher has grown as an artist, her theatrical images have increased in complexity and depth. Both ‘AG Nature’ and ‘Antebellum Bedlam’ entail rich mixtures of surrealist sets, props and symbolic costumes, Robert Hughes’ pulsating music and Fisher’s own witty and idiosyncratic choreography.”

  • “Margaret Fisher in Three Pieces,”  Wynne Delacoma, The Chicago Sun-Times, March 1, 1986.   “It may be one of the stranger evenings you’ve spent in the theater. But anyone hungry for highly crafted art should head over to MoMing Dance & Arts Center tonight or tomorrow. Thanks to MoMing’s membership in the National Performance Network, California-based Ma Fish Co is in town. Thursday’s performance was a glimpse at a surreal universe too seldom glimpsed in Chicago’s mainstream theaters. In ‘War Nerves’ from ‘Ag Nature,’ Marla Carlson, model-beautiful, wearing a red-and-yellow foam mortarboard hat sat on the floor amid flickering TV sets. Starting very slowly, she eventually worked herself into an arm-whirling, torso-twisting frenzy.”

Performance History

  • Preview: Tokyo American Center, Tokyo, Japan, October, 1983 (excerpt).
  • Preview: General Electronics Systems, Inc (GESI), Berkeley, CA, 1985.
  • Premiere: American Theatre Lab / Dance Theatre Workshop, NY, 1985.
  • Excerpt: Kala Gallery’s “Seeing Time Festival,” Berkeley, CA, 1985.
  • Excerpt: Sushi Gallery’s “Neofest” of Performance Art, La Jolla, CA, 1986.
  • Excerpt: MoMing Art Center, Chicago, IL, February 27-28, March 1-2, 1986.
  • Excerpt: Ideas Festival: Re-Inventing Politics, Telluride, CO, 1986.
  • Excerpt: Center for the Performing Arts, University of California, Davis, CA, 1987.
  • Excerpt: Teatro L’Avogaria, Venice, Italy, March 3, 1989.
  • Excerpt: Mue Danse Festival, Musee de L’Art Contemporain, Montreal, Canada, March 10-12, 1989.
  • Video Screening: Image Forum, Tokyo, Japan, 1984

Film Clip

Dance of the Seventh Circle and the Story of Ji Ming from Ag Nature, 16mm film.
Toyoji Tomita and Julius Webster in the Seventh Circle of Dante’s Inferno.


  • Director: Margaret Fisher
  • Music: Robert Hughes
  • Director of Photography: David Heinz
  • Art Direction: Jerry Carniglia
  • Costume Design: Jacqueline Humbert
  • Performers: Beverlee Blair, Janet Jaffe, Ethel London, Toyoji Tomita, Julius Webster
  • Narration: Margaret Fisher
  • Produced by: International Performance Network and MAFISHCO
  • Release Date: 1987 TRT: 27 minutes
  • Genres: American Dance on Film; Film Short; Camp Film; films about Dante's Inferno