By Walter Rutledge
Elisa Monte Dance presented their 2012 season, April 12- 14 at the Ailey Citigroup Theater. The concert series was billed as the company’s 31st anniversary season and works spanning thirty years were offered. In addition the works by Artistic Director and founder Monte, the concert featured premieres by Joe Celej and Tiffany Rea-Fisher.
The concert opened with an excerpt from Monte’s 1999 Amor Fati. Clymene Baugher and Chivas Merchant- Buckman performed the cleanly crafted duet, which contained many elements of Monte’s choreographic signature style. Amor Fati has a sculptural athleticism and spontaneity, which combined to produce sensual and visually satisfying encounter.
Pigs and Fishes is a conversation expressed through movement. It takes place between the dancers and is conveyed to the audience in a clear and concise language. With subtle changes in pattern and spacial design Monte was able to develop and embellish upon the choreographic dialog throughout. This allowed the work to built with a subtle yet smoldering intensity without relying on trickery and flash.
The opening solo performed by Lisa Peluso has an Amazonian vulnerability. It also established the movement vocabulary for the entire work. The work was originally commissioned by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1982 and featured an all female cast. The integrated cast of male and female dancers included Chivas Merchant- Buckman and Joe Celej.
Outside In, choreographed by company member Joe Celej, opened with strong sculptural imagery. The sense of sharing and equality shifted the feel of the work from a nurturing ménage à trois, to a united trio and finally a forceful triumvirate. Clymene Baugher, Liz Beres and Prentice Whitlow performed with understated yet deliberate power.
The dancers created shapes on the floor and with lifts, which at first was more about the collective than the individual. Whitlow’s partnering prowess was on full display as he executed sustained lifts, often with Baugher and Beres simultaneously. Lighting by Andrew Hunt, which included the dancer’s real time images projected on the cyclorama completed the visual experience.
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In Absentia was the most abstract narrative work on the program. Choreographer Tiffany Rea-Fisher created a fluid ensemble work, with Clymene Baugher and Joe Celej as the central couple. There was a longing, as a series of couples tried unsuccessfully to resolve issues in their relationship.
One dancer would offer an apology and/or concession, only to be rejected by the partner. The work was punctuated with quiet contemplative moments which assisting in defining roles. The commissioned score by Kevin Keller added a sense of dance/theatre to the work.
Monte offered one première entitled Unstable Ground. The works extended used the floor had a duel effect on the audience. The first was a subtle and sustained unfolding and reconfiguring, a shifting that provided imagery ranging form schools of ocean creatures to the earth itself. The second effect was an almost seamless building of the onstage ensemble as members joined the rolling mass almost undetected by the audience.
The work was designed to highlight unexpected shifts in our environment and economy. In the core of the movement there is an organized chaos, which eventually resolves itself. There is a prophetic quality about the choreography and Monte achieves this with her trademark-nuanced style.
Vanishing Languages closed the evening. The work featured graffiti-que backdrop but the evolution of the movement language harkened back to antiquity. Monte’s strong use of patterns and design took on a linear look, but the asymmetrical grouping suggested tribal motifs. The groups also successfully manipulated unison and cannon and the resulting synergy captured Monte’s intent.
The use of level, and placement of dancers in the foreground and background also defined the secondary and primary action. The original Kevin James score was interspersed with field recording and archival material of indigenous languages. This combined with Monte’s choreographic clarity revealed more of her storytelling ability.
Elisa Monte is the type of artist who understands that true beauty is not always beautiful. It was gratifying to see dance works that do not subscribe to the “everything but the kitchen sink” ethos. Her style and a movement vocabulary remain honest, fresh and free of redundancy.
In Photo: 1) Chivas Merchant-Buckman and Liz Beres 2)Chivas Merchant- Buckman and Joe Celej
Darial Sneed Photographer