Elisa Monte has been showing us athletic, emotionally passionate dances since forming her company with David Brown in 1981
In its latest Joyce Theater season, February 1 through 6, Elisa Monte Dance, her company of four women and four men, performed seven dances in two different programs ––an ambitious repertoire––which may explain why some of the dances on Program A, seen Thursday, looked a bit under-rehearsed.
Monte traces her kinetic roots to Martha Graham, in whose troupe she performed, but she has stripped away narrative and character, leaving pure, dramatic, physical energy. Her movement is rife with full-throttle leg extensions, and vibratory torso and jagged arm motifs. The world premiere on the program, “A Woman’s Way (To Nancy, With Love From Tom),” was commissioned by a long-time friend of the company as a gift for his wife––a thoughtful Valentine.
Lush instrumental music by the David Chesworth Ensemble swaddles the dancing in sound, as each of the company’s women takes the spotlight. The strong arms of the men waft petite Tiffany Rea aloft; company veteran Marden Ramos powerfully partners dynamic Nicole Dalia in a passionate affair; tall, lyrical Kyla Ernst-Alper leads the other women in an ensemble passage; but voluptuous Jennifer Hardy emerges as the first among equals. Her solo in silhouette begins the ballet, and it ends with her, uplifted in a chair at the pinnacle of the final tableau, affirming a woman’s transcendence.
Since the modern dance aesthetic––especially pre-post-modern dance––is so familiar by now, we demand a lot of it––transitions must be mechanically flawless, rhythms accurate, shapes clear, unisons precise and emotions sharply focused. “Vejle,” a brief male duet, made in 1994 by Monte in collaboration with former co-choreographer Brown, and danced by Bafana Solomon Matea and Ramos, ends before a substantial relationship between the men has developed or had time to resolve. This sketch of intimately connected men contains some difficult and inventive partnering, but Monte should have reconsidered Matea’s floppy shirt, which tended to obscure his movement.
Two other repertory pieces, “White Dragon” (1982) and “Dreamtime” (1986), both explore movement with Afro-Caribbean sensibility in striking group passages. In “Dragon,” the three couples are bare-chested, wearing sarongs by Perucho Valls; Glenn Branca’s vivid score adds excitement.
Highlights of “Dreamtime” are Craig Miller’s striking lighting design: piercing beams of intense white light cutting through a heavy mist; and David van Tieghem’s vibrant, percussive instrumental score. Kevin Ferguson and Fabrice Lamego are the company’s other two hard-working dancers.