THE DANCE ENTHUSIAST ASKS: Tiffany Rea-Fisher on Black History Month, Her Dance Trek Between Harlem and Lake Placid, and Her New Non-dance Gig
Don't Miss EMERGE125's Upcoming Performances at Chelsea Factory
How is it possible that there’s only one Tiffany Rea-Fisher?
It's challenging to keep track of how many titles this woman holds. In addition to being the Executive Artistic Director of EMERGE125, co-founder of the arts presenting nonprofit Inception to Exhibition, curator of the Bryant Park Dance Summer Series, and a frequently commissioned choreographer and guest lecturer, Fisher also manages to be a ubiquitous presence as a teacher and mentor, both in Harlem, NYC and Lake Placid, NY.
And, just this month Fisher was crowned a new title: Executive Director of the Adirondack Diversity Initiative. In an interview with The Dance Enthusiast, Fisher speaks about the meaning of Black History Month, her dual life splitting time between the Adirondacks and New York City, her exciting new non-dance gig, and upcoming performances! For show details, click here.
Theo Boguszewski for The Dance Enthusiast: I want to start by talking about some of your upcoming engagements. You’ve got a bunch of shows coming up this month! What are you showing, and how are you celebrating Black history. I’m particularly interested in the Dance Harlem! Black History Month celebration.
Tiffany Rea-Fisher: Well, there’s a couple of things there. With EMERGE125 being a Black led company, I was very clear that the company was meant to look like New York City, and will continue to look like New York City. There’s no reason that Black history can’t be told through many different people and bodies.
Before the pandemic, I was commissioned by Harlem Stage to comment on the Centennial of the Harlem Renaissance, so I made a film called “Rights of Renaissance” and I’ve now taken that idea and made it into a piece. A lot of the audio that we used for that is my dancers commenting on an article that Ibram X. Kendi wrote about the New Black Renaissance. It’s a piece that started as a work in progress at our Flea Season last year, and now it will be premiering at Chelsea Factory the week before this performance, and it is the piece I’ll be presenting at Dance Harlem! Black History Month as well.
I was just about to ask you about your show at Chelsea Factory. You have two premieres don’t you?
Yea, there is another premiere. I was commissioned by Rima Vargas-Vetter, a former dancer and model, who had a long career in Paris. One of her friends, who ended up being a major player in the Paris dance education scene, Richild, passed away during the pandemic. Rima wanted to honor her. So I created a piece for her, which will open the show. It was fun to honor someone who dedicated their life to the arts. It also helped with the healing process of loss. Then we have some pieces that I worked on during the pandemic that premiered last year at the Flea that just got such wonderful responses we’re going to bring them back.
What was your experience was during the pandemic. How were you able to engage with your artistic practices in spite of all that was going on in the world?
So, we are now 'dual homed.' We are based in Harlem, but we have a great relationship with the Lake Placid Center for the Arts, and we actually run our school out of there. I like to call it the “uptown/upstate” pipeline, just constantly on route 87.
During the pandemic, we were one of the first companies to do a bubble residency. We worked with Dance/NYC to present our findings on how to keep people safe very early on, and we made sure that information got out to the rest of the field so they could continue working and keeping their artists safe.
I brought dancers up to Lake Placid based on their COVID preferences. I didn’t cast the work, so there were a lot of unlikely pairings. It was fabulous from an artistic point of view. Through that process I ended up making three pieces, and two of those will be in the Chelsea Factory program.
You lead a a dual life, working with communities in Harlem and in Lake Placid. What are some of the unique challenges and opportunities you dealt with going back and forth?
It’s interesting you say that because I actually just started a new job…
Oh yes, I was going to ask you about that as well!
Currently I am talking to you from Albany because I’m lobbying for money for the Adirondack Diversity Initiative, which I am the new Executive Director of. That’s the new job. Representation and a diverse robust population has always been my center.
When I took over EMERGE125 everyone was like “oh is it going to be a Black dance company now?” and I refuse to answer questions like that because I’m not going to put myself in a box. I think it’s important both to know what it’s like to be one of many, and to know what it’s like to be one of one. When we announced that we were going to be taking over a ballet school in Lake Placid, the response was “well why are you going to leave these Black and brown kids to go work with white kids?” and I mean, it’s a valid question. It’s a “both, AND” — one doesn’t take away from the other.
My intention for bringing my company to Lake Placid is so that these kids who live in a completely homogenized society are used to seeing women of color in the front of the room. So when they go out in the world they are not shocked by this. Through dance, we have the capacity to make better global decisions, but we need to show up in the way that we are expecting the younger generations to show up.
And you see the way my company looks, but we don’t make a big deal about it. I’m not like “I picked these dancers because we are dedicated to DEI and blah blah” NO! I picked who was best for the job.
It was crucial for us to be in Lake Placid, especially during the summer of 2020. I got so many comments from parents who were like “THANK YOU for being here because you were able to talk about things that I didn’t know how to talk about.” I was able to be a safe landing place for them. When you are able to empathize with someone who does not look like you or has a different shared experience from you, you become a better person, and that’s what you have the ability to do in the arts.
EMERGE125 dancers; photo courtesy of the Company
So what are some of your first goals and initiatives to you new job. I’m interested to hear how you are bringing an arts lens to this work.
Just for reference, the Adirondack Park, which is the area that I oversee in my new job, is a 5th of the state. It’s HUGE! So my main job is to make the park a more welcoming environment for all New Yorkers, because our taxes pay for that – that’s everybody!
When I was hired I was like “understand I am an artist first.” I’m not going to stop making work, because this work is one and the same, it’s just doing it through one system or another – it’s lobbying to get more money so we can continue working through cultural training for police, or making this piece about the centennial of the Harlem Renaissance. I like working atypically, and I have a lot of energy.
I can tell!
I want to do as much good for as long as I can and in as many places as I can because I understand at some point I’m not going to have this much energy.
EMERGE125 makes its Chelsea Factory debut with a repertory-style program that shows the company’s varied strengths both from the choreographic and dancer perspectives. The program includes past repertory premiered at The Joyce Theater, Aaron Davis Hall and the Flea Theater, as well as two premieres.
Join them at Chelsea Factory! Get tickets here.
Thursday, February 23 at 7:30 PM
Friday, February 24 at 7:30 PM
Saturday, February 25 at 2:30 PM
Stay tuned for Part II of The Dance Enthusiast Asks Tiffany Rea -Fisher.