Modern dance can sometimes seem somewhat esoteric or elitist, said Tiffany Rae-Fisher, artistic director for the Elisa Monte Dance company. She counteracts that perception, she said, by making modern dance fun and more tangible to the audience.
That philosophy will be evident in a world premiere performance Feb.16 at the James Lumber Center, she said. Rae-Fisher has choreographed the dance production “Elisa Monte Dance Does Brubeck” to the jazz tunes of Chris Brubeck and his father, Dave Brubeck.
Chris Brubeck’s group, Triple Play, will play live as the members of the highly acclaimed dance group perform artistic and physically challenging movements.
Triple Play includes singers and instrumentalists Chris Brubeck and Joel Brown, along with acclaimed harmonica player Peter Madcat Ruth. Brubeck is an award-winning composer, called by John von Rhein of the Chicago Tribune “a 21st century Leonard Bernstein.”
The audience will be able to participate, Rae-Fisher said. For example, one selection features an audience member and ends in a madcap performance by the dancers and musicians, she said.
“It’s one of the highlights of the evening. It really brings people together around this shared experience,” she said.
Rae-Fisher has worked with Triple Play for several years to create a performance to Dave and Chris Brubeck’s music. Among the most iconic pieces the audience will recognize is Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five,” written in the unusual meter of five beats per measure.
“Chris and Dave’s music is not anything I’ve ever choreographed to before,” Rae-Fisher said. “I was familiar with the music growing up in California. There’s a Brubeck festival every year in California,” she said, adding. “I grew up star-struck by them and very much knowing their music.”
Rae-Fisher said she was honored when Chris asked her to collaborate. To plan the production, she studied the music and asked herself how each piece made her feel and how it might make the audience feel.
“Chris and I get along so well. This collaboration has been a dream,” she said. “We are both so passionate about our craft.”
She admitted considering omitting the classic “Take Five.”
“But when Chris and I were picking pieces, we agreed ‘Take Five’ has to be there. ‘Take Five’ feels like comfort, it feels like a hug because it’s so familiar,” she said.
Rae-Fisher said most of the songs they chose are similar to “Take Five,” in that they are in odd meters. She found it freeing to work with the dancers in this style. “That has been a process, which was really wonderful,” she said.
Rae-Fisher said one of the most fun pieces on the program is danced to Chris Brubeck’s “Memphis Hesitation.”
“It’s our finale. It’s just so fast. Just watching the dancers move that fast, watching the musicians play that fast, is really delightful. I think the audience gets a visual feast of the dancers and musicians together.”
She added this piece includes interactions between the dancers, musicians and the audience.
Rae-Fisher said the production brings together an American dance form and an American music form, jazz. “This production is so distinctly American,” she said. “This is a premiere that’s really exciting for us.”
Rae-Fisher took over the artistic direction of the company after founder Elisa Monte, who served as principal dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company, retired. Monte created the dance company in 1981 to include diverse cultural experiences and to promote dance education. Eight professional dancers belong to the company
Rae-Fisher said she’s working to carry out Monte’s mission as well as bring modern dance closer to the people. For example, Rae-Fisher produced a performance on the streets of New York City with dancers in sneakers and casual clothes and a live band.
“I like popping up in unexpected places and showing people that modern dance is not this thing that’s far from you,” Rae-Fisher said. “Modern dance is a reaction to our every day and shared experiences.”
Elisa Monte Dance Does Brubeck
Time: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 16
Location: James Lumber Center, 19351 Washington, Grayslake
Information: 847-543-2300; jlcenter.clcillinois.edu
Sheryl DeVore is a freelance reporter for the News-Sun.