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With 38th Annual NYC Season Program Elisa Monte Dance Passes the Torch while Preserving its Past

by Bonnie Rosenstock
May 13, 2019
The Flea Theater
41 White Street
New York, NY 10013
212.226.2407 (box office)
When Elisa Monte, co-founder and director of the NYC-based Elisa Monte Dance, retired three years ago, she handpicked former EMD dancer Tiffany Rea-Fisher to be its artistic director. Celebrating its 38th year, and its inaugural season as an Anchor Partner with The Flea Theater, Rea-Fisher presented three of her own works and a Monte classic (May 9-12). The company is in good hands.

The May 10 performance began with “The Best-Self Portrait” (2017, excerpt) and was performed by JoVonna Parks, with spoken word, audience interaction and sketch-comedy stream of consciousness from the live album “Cut the World” (“Future Feminism” track) by Antony and The Johnsons. The versatile Parks, in pointe shoes, deftly navigated between the two worlds of classical pointe work to getting down to the contemporary, while Anohni, as he is called now, riffed on the cycles of the moon, menstruation, obsessions, death, religions, being transgender and a witch. Parks demonstrated great focus, strength and integrity of movement as she responded to the conversation.

The company then reprised Monte’s seminal work “Dreamtime” (1986), a celebration of Australian Aboriginal rituals that moved through reality into dream states. The commissioned score by composer David van Tieghem - known for utilizing any percussion instrument to create sound - was a true collaboration of music and movement. The extraordinary, subtle, quick or sustained movement changes were a panoply of sharp, angular and straight arms, U-shaped articulations, rolling, bouncing, sliding, balancing, pelvic thrusts, torso bends, little jumps, shoulder movements, body bounces and twists, vibrating hands, head tilts, grounded, flying and more. The ensemble performed them admirably with a special shout-out to the terrific soloist Daniela Funicello for overseeing the action.

“And Then They Were” (world premiere) says the program notes “is a reaction to the turbulent nature of the world seen as a meditation via movement. The ethereal work celebrates the moments of beauty and light hidden in the everyday.” Or as Rea-Fisher explained to the audience at the break after the first two pieces, “For me, it’s a statement that is a little more peaceful and harmonious than our current situation.”

It was a moderately slow, lush piece, that also incorporated pointe work with modern dance. It featured five wonderful dancers and one whose mediocre abilities was a distraction; especially evident in flopping down from a lift, legs lifelessly dangling askew. There was synchrony in the group dancing as well as well-performed quartets, trios and duets. But whenever Thomas Varvaro and Brynlie Helmich were paired, magic ensued, especially in an astonishing sequence of her heavenly leg lifts while sliding to the floor to standing with the help of her partner’s strong lifting.

Ending the program was Rea-Fisher's work-in-progress “H.E.R”, commissioned by Harlem Stage that will premiere in February 2020 as part of the Harlem Renaissance Centennial. In it, Rea-Fisher pays homage to the artistic work and lives of three black, queer playwrights/writers, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Mary Powell Burrill and Angelina Weld Grimké, who a century ago pushed the envelope and gave voice to the under-represented by advocating for suffrage, LGBTQ and civil rights. The all-female cast of eight was garbed in colorful 1920s vintage dresses and fun hats. They performed to a ragtime-infused soundscape. Charleston dance steps, nice bouncy movements in place, arm whipping and shimmying body and shoulder shakes, had both the dancers and audience grooving to the work.
JoVonna Parks in Tiffany Rea-Fisher's “The Best-Self Portrait”.

JoVonna Parks in Tiffany Rea-Fisher's “The Best-Self Portrait”.

Photo © & courtesy of Elisa Monte Dance


JoVonna Parks in Tiffany Rea-Fisher's “The Best-Self Portrait”.

JoVonna Parks in Tiffany Rea-Fisher's “The Best-Self Portrait”.

Photo © & courtesy of Elisa Monte Dance


Sai Rodboon and Company in Elisa Monte's “Dreamtime”.

Sai Rodboon and Company in Elisa Monte's “Dreamtime”.

Photo © & courtesy of Elisa Monte Dance


Tracy Dunbar, Daniela Funicello and Thomas Varvaro in Elisa Monte's “Dreamtime”.

Tracy Dunbar, Daniela Funicello and Thomas Varvaro in Elisa Monte's “Dreamtime”.

Photo © & courtesy of Elisa Monte Dance


Ashley LaRosa and Thomas Varvaro in Tiffany Rea-Fisher's “And Then They Were”.

Ashley LaRosa and Thomas Varvaro in Tiffany Rea-Fisher's “And Then They Were”.

Photo © & courtesy of Elisa Monte Dance


Brynlie Helmich and Thomas Varvaro in Tiffany Rea-Fisher's “And Then They Were”.

Brynlie Helmich and Thomas Varvaro in Tiffany Rea-Fisher's “And Then They Were”.

Photo © & courtesy of Elisa Monte Dance


The company in Tiffany Rea-Fisher's “H.E.R”.

The company in Tiffany Rea-Fisher's “H.E.R”.

Photo © & courtesy of Elisa Monte Dance


The company in Tiffany Rea-Fisher's “H.E.R”.

The company in Tiffany Rea-Fisher's “H.E.R”.

Photo © & courtesy of Elisa Monte Dance

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