Sacred stratosphere: Elisa Monte Dance Company.
and the Woman
Mae G. Banner
Monte Dance Company
Egg, Feb. 27
The right choice of music can make a dance unforgettable.
The wrong choice can overpower the dance, distracting the
viewer from what’s on stage. In last Friday’s performance
at the Egg, Elisa Monte Dance gave us one from each category.
First, the good news. Recorded music by the Klezmatics lifted
Elisa Monte’s Shekhina into a sacred stratosphere.
This new dance, meant to celebrate the spiritual and sexual
power of women, rose on currents of soulful clarinets and
the ecstatic singing of the Klezmatics’ Lorin Sklamberg and
carried me with it into realms of wonder. I didn’t want it
is a Hebrew term found in the Kabbala that signifies the female
manifestation of God on earth. Leonard Nimoy explored the
concept in his book of photographs and commissioned Monte
to move it into dance—the third dimension. Her suite of eight
rhythmic, mystical flights had its premiere last month at
the Joyce Theater in Manhattan.
Women rule, as mothers, lovers, and supernatural forces. In
the first section, Nicole Corea, shrouded in a swath of translucent
white fabric, is symbolically born from the encircling womb
created by the supporting bodies of Marden Ramos and Bafana
Solomon Matea. Her legs and arms shoot out like pairs of strong
wings, then pull back as she leans out, perilously off-center,
testing her power.
In the next passage, three more swathed women get free of
their fabric cocoons and rise to dance together, supporting
each other, so their legs branch out in many directions. Then,
all four women support Fabrice Lamego, who portrays a young
Moses in need of protection. Sklamberg sings with a tear in
his voice as the women go round and round the precious child
until at last he is ready to walk alone. The women part like
the waters of the Red Sea, fall and roll offstage, as the
man steps slowly forward.
A propulsive, drum-driven section looked like a Yiddish Walpurgisnacht
filled with leaping, stamping women. This was followed by
Sklamberg’s otherworldly Dybbuk Nign (which the Klezmatics
also performed in Tony Kushner’s play, The Dybbuk)
in which four men carry Po-Chieh Chen high overhead, then
sink to their bellies and creep forward on their elbows to
the sound of one plucked cello string.
Chen lifts each fallen man in turn and dances with him, inspiring
the men to do their own rhythmic dance to the sound of the
dumbek. It is as if her power has possessed them.
A children’s song follows, playful on the surface, but with
an undercurrent of danger. The men lift the women, who grip
their partners’ torsos with their legs. This dangerous game
leads into the final duet between Ramos and Corea. He lifts
and turns her, circling, until the others return to wrap her
again in the enveloping shroud and raise her high at center
The evening opened with Parts I and II of Via Sacra,
(2002) a work in progress set to vocal and instrumental music
by members of the Bang on a Can ensemble. Another of Monte’s
high-concept dances, it begins with an exploration of mourning
and loss, followed by a look at how different colored light
affects our perception of the dancers’ shapes.
Ramos leads the company in the first part (Lost Things).
He seems stricken, clawing at his body, trying to rid himself
of some unseen terror. He leads the ensemble of mourners or
seekers in a slow procession, while the recorded voices repeat
a litany of losses that is more moving than the dance: “I
lost my father, I lost my keys, I lost my business, I lost
my home, I lost my mind.”
Ramos falls, tries not to fall. One by one, dancers try to
hold him from behind, but he shakes them off, then leads the
company out in the flickering dark. They are together and
not together. The music is unresolved. The feeling is disoriented,
The Philip Glass-like music for the second part (Light
Lies) propelled the dancers into quick, twisty solos that
sent the panels of fabric at their waists flying out in horizontal
spins. Bits of movement—prances, swirls, off-center lifts
and carries, asymmetrical meetings and partings—were like
colored chips in an abstract mosaic, set almost randomly on
different bodies in different corners of the stage.
Ramos moved with the formality of a Balinese dancer, bowing
and rolling his shaven head. Even his big moves seemed tamped
down, restrained. At the same time, the accompanying voices
were urgent, drawing my concentration away.
Monte knows how to build a dance of provocative bits and how
to pass an interesting movement from body to body. Her dancers
stand out as individuals, yet combine satisfyingly as a group.
Now, if she can steady the balance between the dance and the
music, she’ll be home free.