The company Elisa Monte started with David Brown in 1981 has finally added his name to its title, and several of his new dances to its roster. This is a good thing; his calmer style is a great counterpoint to hers. Monte launched her choreographic career in 1979 with the sensuous duet Treading, but has for years concentrated on blockbuster works in which strong, sleek, often nearly naked performers thrust themselves through space, picked out by dramatic lighting. Audiences love these pieces, but some have grown impatient with their lack of real communication—between the dancers, and between them and us.
Lighting is still a factor; designer Clifton Taylor supports Monte and Brown in Run to the Rock, their powerful evocation of a “sinner man” for the ’90s, with Fabrice Lamego inhabiting Nina Simone’s jazzy interpretation of the gospel song used by Alvin Ailey in his early blockbuster, Revelations. And Monte’s 1986 Dreamtime actually stars Craig Miller’s lighting effects, which hover between Vegas and Lucas, light-years from the Australian aboriginal rituals the dance claims as inspiration.
The performers who race through Dreamtime‘s smoky, laser-like beams are all terrific, but they’re seen to better advantage in the simpler precincts of Brown’s new Niagara, to a Shostakovich piano trio. With its folk-dance formations and steady stream of embracing couples, Niagara stresses community; whether paired or in clusters, lined up or circling, huddled on the floor or strutting proudly, the dancers explore the geometries of interaction, their technical prowess al lowing crystalline expression of the ties that bind the diverse ensemble. In Maquette, Brown allows his quintet silence, stillness, suppleness; the choreography expresses relationship rather than mere physicality, holding its own against the soupy Samuel Barber score. (Taylor’s subtle lighting here—four parti-colored windowpanes high over the stage, and complementary gobos on the floor—keeps us glued to the action.) The choreographers wisely restrain their dancer in Run to the Rock. Working against the lyrics of the song (and against Ailey’s familiar interpretation of it), Manego too plays with stillness, with moments when the only activity onstage is the rippling of his torso.