On The Rise: Elisa Monte's Tiffany Rea

July 31, 2007

Tiffany Rea dances like a lit fuse. Energy radiates from her powerful legs and muscular arms. Sparks seem to fly from the funky curls atop her head. While at 5’1″ she may be the smallest dancer in New York’s eight-member Elisa Monte Dance, her dynamism makes her a standout. Her riveting onstage personality emphasizes the fluidity, precision, and vitality of the choreography. Movements seem to roll through her body. She can pull off cyclone spins and leaps that hang in the air without a grimace. “She doesn’t seem to touch the floor. She’s so lifted,” says Monte.

But Rea’s talents don’t end with performing. At 25, not only does she take the lead in Monte’s company—she’s been a member since 2004—but her entrepreneurial spirit has helped her offstage career blossom as well. Her resumé includes curating at The Tank, a nonprofit New York City performance space for visual arts, and directing regional programming for the New York segment of DanceChannelTV.com, the YouTube for dance (see “Vital Signs,” page 14).

Rea is in constant motion. During an April rehearsal for a new Monte work that will premiere in the company’s fall season, she repeatedly runs through the phrases on her own. Monte often turns to Rea to check herself. “Once it’s in my body, it’s there and I’m able to play with it quickly,” says Rea. Other company dancers often ask her to go over steps with them. “Her positive attitude permeates the studio,” says Monte. “She never projects discouragement.”

A Fresno, California, native, Rea began her dance career at age 3. “My mom put me in dance because she said I had no rhythm,” laughs Rea, who gives her mother, a nurse and former singer, credit for her current success. Rea trained at the Dance Studio of Fresno. She began performing in competitions—tap was her favorite style—and won scholarships from Tremaine Conventions and Competitions and Gus Giordano’s Jazz Dance World Congress. “Competing makes you really versatile,” she says, “in tap, jazz—everything.”

But during her senior year of high school, Rea had knee surgery to clean out cartilage from a possible meniscus tear. Fearing it meant the end of her dancing, she considered going to college with a concentration in business. Then she discovered SUNY Purchase College’s dance program, which accepted her on partial scholarship. There she was introduced to the world of modern dance. A natural jumper, she gravitated to Graham and Taylor techniques. “Suddenly dance was new and exciting,” she says. “There were emotions and narrative.”

After she graduated from Purchase, a friend urged her to try out for Elisa Monte Dance. Monte had been a Graham dancer for years, so it seemed a natural fit. But she initially didn’t think it would work. “Elisa’s work is so feminine. I thought it would be a horrible match,” Rea says. “Now it’s so comfortable.”

Monte liked Rea’s openness and intelligence. “That curiosity and ability to go anywhere is something I need in a dancer,” she says. Monte hopes that Rea will be a living resource for the company’s future too. “I expect Tiffany to be able to pass on the repertory. She’s very attuned to what I want to accomplish.”

Rea impressed audience members and critics alike last fall during the company’s Joyce season, especially in
Volkmann Suite
. Inspired by the photographs of Roy Volkmann, two male dancers and Rea interact like one constantly evolving organism. The dancers wear the same costumes—a simple pair of black shorts, no top. “It’s sculptural,” says Rea about her favorite piece in the rep, “bare bones but tender.” She sees the piece as asexual, yet there’s an underlying sensuality that is undeniable. The bare-chested dancers find intimate pauses as they dance to a swelling score by Michael Nyman on the softly lit stage. Rea gives a hypnotic performance in this dance.

When Rea’s not dancing, she’s still working. She has spearheaded Cultural After School Adventures (CASA), a program that takes Monte’s company into New York public schools to teach dance. Her position as curator at The Tank involves everything from finding the artists to putting on the shows. Rea also appears on the radio every week on Tribeca.net’s “Doc Radio” show, where she talks about dance around town, in her company, and as an art form.

She eventually hopes to open her own performance space. “I like the idea of providing a space and a home for dancers,” she says. “It’s the best way to give back.” Rea knows she’s ambitious, but she’s ready for the challenge. “I don’t mind hearing no and falling on my face. It’s going to happen. The learning curve is extreme.”

Emily Macel is associate editor at
Dance Magazine.