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White Lies and Rolling Tears for Elisa Monte Dance

by Rosella Simonari

February 22, 2007 -- Teatro Pergolesi, Jesi (Ancona), Italy

In studying Martha Graham’s dance world, special attention needs to be given to Graham’s dancers, as their temper and exceptionality are fundamental elements for her dances to keep on living. Among them there is Elisa Monte, who talks extensively about her experience as a Graham dancer in the book “Goddess – Martha Graham’s Dancers Remember”, edited by Robert Tracy. Monte danced with the company from 1974 to 1982, during the period when Graham again started to take care of her school and company after a period of illnesses and depression following her decision to stop dancing. With her there was also her husband, David Brown, with whom she formed her own company in 1981,- Elisa Monte Dance. Since then she has created more than thirty works that have been performed by many other companie, including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, Boston Ballet and Batsheva Dance Company. From Graham, Monte learned to create dances where every aspect needs to be taken into consideration. Her dancers are technically talented and her choreographies are often based on collaboration with artists, photographers or composers.

In 2006, the company celebrated its 25th anniversary, and its Italian tour has represented a kind of prolongation of its success. In Jesi, the programme included “Day’s Residue,” “Volkmann Suite,” “Tears Rolling” and “Light Lies.” The first piece was about “the small events of everyday life”. Set to Vladimir Godár’s music, it recalled both in the costumes and some of the movements eighteenth-century dance, with bows between partners and gracious movements of the arms. The costumes by Karen Young were long, baggy skirts for women and tailed waistcoats for men. In spite of her subtle use of a colour for each couple,red, purple, yellow, and green,black was the predominant shade and it darkened the effect a bit too much. In the programme note, the piece was supposed to have a psychoanalytical undertone, but it was not very clear from the choreographic device.

The second piece was a much clearer artistic statement. It was inspired by Roy Volkmann’s photographs of the company and was excellently performed by a trio- Tiffany Rea, wearing a pair of black pants, and her two partners Matthew Fisher and Fabrice Lamego, both wearing similar pants. This choice created a homogeneity in terms of shapes and colour that allowed their different body structure and movement approach to emerge. As Monte affirmed, she “set out to explore the paradox between the static image of a photograph and the continually self-transforming image of dance”, The lines of this piece are particularly clean and beautiful; the dancers perform solo phrases as well as group movements where they intertwine their bodies in challenging poses.

The third piece is a melancholic change. “Tears Rolling” is an all female trio set to the music of Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. The costumes, short beige dresses, are by Monte herself. The three women, Rachel Holmes, Amber Mayberry and Maya Taylor, often sit on a bench placed on the back stage left. They run forward, perform steps and solo pieces, but then invariably return to the bench. They embody the three different emotional aspects of the same woman who is going through a reflection on herself. The tone of the piece is highlighted by the fluid movements of the three dancers and by the music with its switch from string instruments to piano.

The fourth piece is, like the first one, danced by the whole company. Commissioned by the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, it is an homage to Josef Albers and to his theories on colour. This homage is mainly created through the lighting design by Clifton Taylor, who also took care of the lighting design in the other pieces. The costumes are white and manage to express an elegant contrast with “the sensuality and vibration of colour” given by the change of lights. In some of the choreographic pieces there is a quotation from Ailey’s “Revelations”, with the dancers grouped together, their arms and hands up .It is a powerful piece where the dancers run and jump and display all their technical proficiency.

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