Vanishing Languages ~ Still from video on

Elisa Monte Dance

Ailey Citigroup Theater
New York, NY
April 12–14, 2012

A Review

Amor Fati, Latin for “love of fate,” is the title of the first dance on the program. Since it was a beautiful duet performed by two exquisite dancers, I had no reason not to love the fate that had brought me to this evening of dance theater. I hoped that I would not change my mind by the end of the evening, and I did not.

Elisa Monte danced with Agnes DeMille, Martha Graham, and many others, and has been choreographing since 1979. Although she no longer performs, she has powerful dancers interpreting her work. The two who dance Amor Fati are two of her strongest. Chivas Merchant-Buckman’s elegant black body contrasted beautifully with the also elegant, very pale blonde Clymene Baugher, who seems to be blessed with tremendous stamina, as she appeared in every single dance on the program. The couple started out in a square of light on a dark stage to which additional light was added as they moved through space with intricate couplings and shapes. Although Monte does not seem to be burdened with mannerisms, some gestures would reappear throughout the evening, almost as a recurring theme. One dancer would turn and walk away; the other would follow and embrace from behind. The one being embraced would throw the arms off and walk away; then they would reverse and continue with much pursuing and rejection. The coming together was always so beautiful that it warranted the pursuit. Ms. Monte is blessed with the gift of brevity—the individual dances were not belabored, nor was the evening as a whole overly long. We left wanting more.

Pigs and Fishes followed with a bang and was a tour de force that required enormous energy for its performance. The score is energetic and driving, and the choreography is a constant changing of intricate, ingenious shapes and patterns of movement. Triplets were frequently used as locomotion. I smiled with pleasure and joy at the moments when everything built to a crescendo. The program notes indicate this is one of the most popular works, and I can understand why. To view it is an exhilarating experience.

Pigs and Fishes is a tough dance to follow, and Outside In didn’t seem to be up to the challenge. This trio of two women and one man seemed to be a “Who’s on first and what’s on second?" situation. The movement was done in a pedestrian style with the three dancers climbing all over one another. A faint projection of the trio on the cyclorama was intriguing and offered respite from the machinations of the three dancers downstage.

In Absentia began with a couple that left the stage after the whole company had entered, and then did not reappear until the end of the dance. Here the movement gestures depicting attraction and rejection were prevalent, which made sense as the program notes state, “In Absentia explores the idea of timing as it relates to romantic relationships.” However, it isn’t necessary to know this to enjoy the dance, since it works as a pure movement piece. Indeed the whole company is comprised of dancers who are all technically proficient, and they are excellent, direct, and clean performers free of mannerisms or stylistic encumbrances.

Unstable Ground, which again engaged the full company, begins with only a few bodies in flesh-colored leotards and eventually builds to a teeming mass of bodies in the center of the stage. The program notes indicate the dance is about the economy and dependency on unstable structures, and although that may have been in the mind of the choreographer, the writhing mass of beautiful bodies brought to mind Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights much more readily than the economy.

The evening closed with Vanishing Languages, which again employed the whole company. They appeared in brightly colored leotards and conversed with one another through movement. Ms. Monte does seem to be a master of intricate patterns, and in this piece the colors added another element to the mix. The original score was an intriguing mélange of phrases uttered in unrecognizable languages, and sometimes the dancers did seem to ramble on. They’re all so competent. This is one dance where they could really let go a little and relax into the choreography. But overall, I felt the lack of a sense of humor and individuality in the dancers. The notes indicate that this is a fairly new company, so I’m anxious to see how they develop as individuals. It’s all good and it all works, so now the dancers must enjoy doing it. We enjoy watching it.

—Virginia Dillon