Elisa Monte Dance is a company that was founded to bring the beauty of modern dance to the masses. Founded by Elisa Monte—a pupil of the legendary Martha Graham—the thirty-eight-year-old company has just established a partnership with The Flea theater in Manhattan. The company is planning several shows at the venue, all which focus on different themes and are occasionally created in collaboration with other respected organizations, such as the Harlem Stage.

Recently Artistic Director Tiffany Rea-Fisher granted an exclusive interview where she discussed her experiences with the dance-centered organization and her hopes for its future.

Dancing, directing, and shows

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you start dancing and what styles most appealed to you and why?

Tiffany Rea-Fisher (TRF): My Mom put me in dance when I was three because she said I had no rhythm. I did lots of other activities as a kid, gymnastics, track, volleyball, choir but everything fell to the wayside and dance became my life. I started with tap and loved the all the different sounds I could make with my feet but when I found modern dance my whole life changed.

When I arrived at SUNY Purchase as a college student, I realized I had a lot of catching up to do. I had never taken a modern dance class before I began studying at SUNY Purchase, so I would spend hours in the library studying and researching modern dance. It was in that library that I discovered Elisa Monte Dance, little did I know I would one day be the director of the company I fondly admired as a college student.

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Modern dance appeals to me the most because it is a truly American art form rooted in social justice, protest and making space for the “other.” Modern dance celebrates you as YOU are, and that is a practice I have carried over into my daily life.

MM: How did you get involved with Elisa Monte Dance?

TRF: I had a friend in the company who encouraged me to audition. At the time I didn't think it was a good fit for me, but I was coming back to the United States from dancing overseas and thought “what's the worst that can happen?” Fifteen years later, I'm running the company so I'd say it was a good fit.

MM: How did you get into directing and how much more difficult is that role?

TRF: I am the handpicked successor of Elisa Monte, so she prepped me for the roles years before it was time to actually take over. I don’t know that directing is more difficult, but it is a completely different skill set. You need to be able to multitask, be diplomatic, kind, strong and creative. It is can be draining because of all it takes, but it is also extremely rewarding.

MM: How did you get to collaborate with The Flea Theater?

TRF: Years ago, I presented work at the Emelin Theater in Westchester and the curator at the time, Lisa Reilly, kept up with my career as I transitioned to Artistic Director. Lisa transitioned from the Emelin to the Flea Theater so when it was time for the Flea to start looking for anchor partners for the Lisa knew that I was diversifying what projects the company took on.

She thought I would be a good fit for a theater who was new to the dance space.

MM: You have so many shows coming up, is it tough to keep them all on track?

TRF: OMG, yes, it’s crazy. Thank god for calendar alerts. Although I am scheduled within an inch of my life, I will never complain about being busy. My entire life I’ve prepped for success and here it is, so I am ready and excited for the journey.

Inspiration, performances, and audiences

MM: What inspired each of these performances and how did you decide which shows to slate for 2019?

TRF: Some are commissioned, so the source material is provided for you. Like our show with the theater company, The Classical Theater of Harlem. They pick the play, so it then becomes my job to create the movement within this new world. Our last show at the National Gallery of Art was based on their exhibit “Women of Cohort,” and they commissioned me to create a ballet celebrating these women. Our upcoming show at the National Gallery of Art is inspired by an exhibit covering the moon landing. Then there are other times when you can just work off of your own imagination and make what’s in your head and heart and see what comes out. I like partnering with venues who have a similar philosophy to my own and who treat people well. That is a big thing for me.

I am also inspired by the artist in front of me; I take the person into consideration when creating new work. Personalities, energy, and goals are inspiring to me, and I create work that will not only look good on my dancers but inspires growth and change within them. I often observe my company when their guard is down in real human moments. It is in those true personal moments when I realize who they are and what I can pull out of them artistically.

Using dance as a service to my community is extremely important to me. Dance has always been a communal practice. Therefore, it is inspired by the community in terms of inception, and returned back to them through the performance. It is crucial to me that my audience can see themselves in my company and in my work. I want EMD to reflect the diversity of NYC and America.

MM: What do you hope audiences get out of Elisa Monte Dance productions and what’s on the horizon?

TRF: When leaving an EMD experience, I hope the audience feels empowered and inspired by the life they have created for themselves. I want my audience to use the excitement and inspiration to curate a life they love. Dance should empower the community and serve the people directly. Therefore, I hope my audience feels considered, cared about, and more excited to live their best life.

Up next the company has our gala, National Gallery of Art show and a conference performance in April, our season and collaboration with the Young People’s Chorus of NY at the Apollo in May, performances with the Classical Theatre of Harlem and at the New Victory Theater in July, our summer intensive, then Lake Placid performances and Summer Stage performances in August.

All the while I’m teaching at Steps on Broadway on Mondays and Wednesdays. So, yea...not much rest but it’s an incredibly creative and fulfilling few months!

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