Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Dance Review: Elisa Monte and Her Dancers Create Stellar Work


Born in 1981, Elisa Monte Dance has a history of thought provoking work executed by techically and emotionally outstanding dancers, a reputation that is not left at the door on this evening’s showcase of four works, one of which is a world premiere.

Slope of Enlightenment is an introduction that not only emphasizes the Elisa Monte dancers’ athletically elegant stage presence, but also Elisa’s dedication to loyalty and persistence. First off, this piece is dedicated to Fabrice Lamego, a former, loyal Elisa Monte dancer. Elisa’s choreography explores human persistence and what it takes to survive in a really tough situation. One male dancer clearly struggles with unexpected obstacles as he faces away from the group after colliding with them in a dramatic confrontation. He dances with internal pain written on every move, but bounces back very quickly to be a stronger person.

The "obstacles" are fiercely represented by the corps. All of the females are in long, drab gray dresses, and, at one point, surround the anguished man as they spin and writhe in canon. This circular climax clearly displays the feeling of being suffocated and surrounded, and the only way out is to simply keep moving. 

The way that Elisa makes interesting chaos turn into a clear pattern is genius. This signature "chaos into pattern" is done really well in the circle around the anguished man. The dancers quickly twist, turn and fall to the ground at different times. At first, you don’t know who to watch on stage because there is so much happening in different places, but then, after looking at it for a few seconds, you see a subtle pattern. After about sixteen counts of eight of interesting chaos, everyone dramatically ends in the same position on the floor.  Slope of Enlightenment is a beautiful manifestation of Elisa Monte’s signature "chaos into pattern", which is set on dancers at their peak of emotional and physical agility.

World Premiering this evening is Arrow’s Path, a love quintet.  All of the movement in this piece shouts physical love and the ups and downs that come along with it. The choice of creating this dance for five dancers is an interesting one. There is always an odd man/woman out. This makes it very similar to a love triangle dance except there are two more dancers to contribute to the trading of partners and interchanging duets of love. 

Love makes you go around and around in circles until your head is spinning. Appropriately,  Elisa uses a lot of circular motion in each of the duets.  The first duet begins with the male and female dancer, back to back, shene turning around each other while never losing physical contact whether it be a head to a small of the back or an elbow to a ribcage. While they spin back to back, both heads are turned slightly toward each other as if making eye contact is the main goal of performing "connected shene turns", but this goal is never accomplished.

Highlighted here is Elisa’s collaborative force with the dancers. Every duet that is presented looks as if it starts with contact improvisation between the two dancers.   Elisa Monte is a master of contact improvisation and has spread her teachings around the globe, which would make one believe that there is a portion of contact improv in all of her art.  Seemingly, upon the initial framework by the dancers, Elisa’s choreography colors in the vast space in between the lines that makes a duet take form.  Now, this is speculation because there is nothing in the program that states there is choreography by any of the dancers (except in the New York premiere of Zydeco, Zaré, (which closes the evening), but the duets are so extremely organic and form fitting in the way that the dancers partner and touch that Ellisa would have to know each dancer inside and out to actually specifically choreograph each of those moves (especially exactly what part of the head touches which millimeter of the shoulder on which count in the music to make it all come together seamlessly). If there is not any collaboration with the dancers on this one, then it is a huge compliment to Elisa in the way that she is all knowing of her dancers’ bodies, styles and breaths. If there is collaboration, it is still a huge compliment to Elisa because of her brilliant shading that makes the dance come alive with the synchronization of the love making movements and the brilliant vocabulary that makes up the dance that grows from these connections of the flesh.

One of the most romantic and breathtaking sequences is when all five dancers are on stage making a grand display of Elisa’s "chaos into pattern".  All of the dancers chaotically solo on different counts and with different moves, but the pattern comes into place through the hugs that at least one couple ends in at various spots on the stage every few seconds.  It is a beautiful painting of random technical execution spread across the stage interrupted by moments of stillness as each couple that embraces holds the hug for at least an eight count.  Some couples go on to slow dance after basking in a much needed still embrace following all of the chaos. Arrow’s Path romantically resolves chaos into stillness and tension into release.

Audentity is set to a piece of music by the same name by Klause Schulz that is the driving force of this dance.  With the synthesizer sound and the fast beats, the dancers synthesize with a lot of unison choreography and matching all white unitards. A single bright white diagonal line is created with lighting that goes from downstage right to upstage left.  The dancers dance on this line as if it is a tight rope, never veering from it at certain points doing small movements with the feet such as step touch in plea while the sharp Horton arms isolate quickly to the 80’s beat. 

At one point, the dancers move from downstage to upstage on the diagonal line with the same simple, staccato traveling step.  Once the most upstage dancer reaches the upstage end of the diagonal line, he/she releases from this staccato traveling step and softly, yet expressively undulates the body with arms in second into a grand plea followed by an attitude leap off stage as another dancer enters onto the downstage part of the diagonal with the same staccato traveling step.  This pattern repeats over and over again in increments of eight counts, creating the illusion that there are fifty dancers in the company instead of just the seven dancers who are racing backstage left to right in order to make their next entrance. 

A female soloist dances with infinite amounts of energy and technique at various points throughout the piece. The solo is unique in that it combines elements of African style dance and long extensions with the reoccurring fast, rhythmic isolations. This girl has a fierce ponché that she sustains in contrast to the whacking of some of the African and staccato themed movement making up the rest of the piece.

This synthesized music created in 1983 and the sharp, angular movement of the dancers is reminiscent of the digital revolution of the early 80’s.  The fierce athleticism of the dancers is on showcase in this piece as displayed in the sharp movement created for every quick beat in the music.  Technically perfecting these fast movements coupled with running backstage to make an entrance on time is something to be admired.  Elisa Monte and her dancers have created a dynamic masterpiece with Audentity.

Zydeco, Zaré is in it’s New York premiere this season at the Joyce Theatre. I couldn’t stop smiling throughout the entirety of this piece mainly because the dancers are truly having so much fun on stage, and this is infectious. There is a live band playing just off of downstage right in the house, whose music is a huge contributing factor to the fun and playful atmosphere. The musicians play Zydeco music, African American Creole folk music from Louisiana in the 1800’s. This piece is, in part, supported by the Louisiana Arts Council and focuses deeply on Louisiana’s history through movement and images including multimedia projected on an upstage screen that creates a backdrop chock full of Creole history.

The women wear flowery skirts that they use in the choreography to express playfulness as they toss the material side to side as they dance. These skirts also prove to be flirtacious as they hike them up and roll their hips for the men.  The men wear jeans (these jeans must have a high percentage of spandex in them because, otherwise, all of them would have split their pants while kicking their faces and side leaping for the heavens). 

This piece gives the men in the company a chance to shine in their masculinity and machismo pride. In a trio, the men proudly swagger to the center of the stage, where they give each other high fives and pull up their belt buckles.  A chuckle out loud moment is when the boys start to balletically walk across the stage after being so manly. At this point, I expect a more masculine follow-up to the manly introduction, but aside from the "ballet walks", the male-ography makes the men out to be as strapping as can be.  In fact,  the dancing in the trio looks as if they are cowboys in an Oklahoma ballet. 

We take a visit to the marshes of Louisiana when tall grass is projected on the backdrop as three women walk slowly across the stage, hunched over as if predators. Sporadically, one of the women ferociously flails her hands so close to her face that she has to back her head cautiously away.  All of the women do the "hand spaz" at some point during their long hunting trip from one side of the stage to the other as they face their inner demons one at a time.  Aside from the seriousness of the womens’ hunt and the relationship problems, this piece is a fun celebration of the Creole culture through Zydeco music and dancing with joy as the girls be girls and boys be boys.

iDANZ Online with Tag copy

iDANZ Critix Corner
Official Dance Review by Adrienne Jean Fisher
Performance: Elisa Monte Dance
Venue:  Joyce Theatre, New York
Date:  January 23, 2009

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