Review: Elisa Monte Dance

Intertwined. Interwoven. Interlaced.

Around shoulders; through legs; over heads; around backs; draped across abdomens.

The dancing showcased in the Elisa Monte Dance performance at The American Theatre contained some of the most intricate contemporary partnering I have seen. These dancers proved throughout the show to be masters of this.

Artistic Director Elisa Monte, heads this New York City-based modern dance company. She studied with School of American Ballet, and went on to dance with Agnes de Mille, Martha Graham, Pilobolus, and other companies. She began choreographing in 1979, and the company Elisa Monte Dance was established in 1981. The company has since toured throughout the United States, and internationally.

The show in Hampton opened with Vejle, choregraphed by Elisa Monte and David Brown. The two male dancers in the piece, Joe Celej and Chivas Merchant-Buchman, rarely separated during the entire dance. They were wrapped around each other, moving through shapes and rolling arcs as they lifted each other and molded themselves around each other. Their formidable strength was impressive.

Tears Rolling, by Elisa Monte, also portrayed strong connections between the dancers, but in a different way. Three female dancers performed this; according to the program, the piece is a trio that “represents the varied aspects of one woman’s emotional journey, a reflection of her different selves.” The dancers performed this beautifully;  they floated in and out of unison, and in and out of canon. They too had weaving lifts, and physical connections, but the choreography skillfully presented the idea of the separate sides of one individual. Each dancer, in turn, stretched out as if to break free, but the others pulled her back. They folded into and away from each other in waves. The piece finished with the dancers seated on a bench, leaning on each other, arms wrapped around – unified. The sidelights enhanced this piece wonderfully, creating glows and shadows on the dancers as they moved.

The most dynamic of the entire show was the piece White Dragon, by Elisa Monte. The music was forceful, with a rapid, intense beat. The six dancers, three female, and three male, wore only black and red fabric that draped around their hips and waists. The dancers moved through formations, all performing the same march-like steps, fiery kicks, and razor-sharp arm swings. The fierceness of the piece never faltered. The dancers broke into groups for the center section, which did include some partnering, but the majority of the choreography had the dancers performing in individual, yet powerful, unison.

The second act began with Elisa Monte’s first choreographic work, Treading, created in 1979. An amazing contemporary pas de deux, performed by Clymene Baugher and Prentice Whitlow, this piece was smooth and steady, filled with acrobatic lifts and demanding floor partnering. The fervent and passionate choreography was executed beautifully, both physically and emotionally. I am thrilled that this piece is still part of the company’s repertory.

…the heart…, and For Joy, choreographed by Joe Celej and Tiffany Rea-Fisher, respectively, closed out the show. …the heart… was a short pas de trois that I would have loved to see more of; it ended just as I was being pulled in. I was expecting For Joy to have more light and sparkle in the movements (based on its title), but the piece was strenuous, with an urban feel, and delicious music by Kyle Olsen which I would have to describe as pulsing and gritty, with a hint of house and a ton of groove. It was my favorite music of the entire show.

It is wonderful to see a company of dancers who not only have a commitment to training their bodies to have the strength and fortitude to accomplish difficult choreography, but to also have an emotional and spiritual commitment to the expression of the movement as well. It is that element that elevates the steps into a performance, and makes it dance.

“The choice to dance is completely instinctual, completely compelling. We all struggle through life trying to understand why we’re here and what we’re doing. For me, dance has always been my way of communicating of finding answers. There was just no other path.”

– Elisa Monte, Artistic Director

This article was originally published on AltDaily in September of 2011.

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