It’s fairly common for dance artists to serve in multiple roles: performer, choreographer, teaching artist, administrator, et cetera. Tiffany Rea-Fisher epitomizes such a multifaceted dance artist, in her own striking way. The Artistic Director of EMERGE125, her dances have graced a variety of stages. Entities ranging from the Dallas Black Dance Theatre to the NYC Department of Transportation to the National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.) have commissioned her work. Her impact doesn’t end there, however; she’s also a curator, educator and – through roles such as the Director of the Adirondack Diversity Initiative – an advocate.
She’ll be adding another role to that list this year – namely, the 2024 Helen Stambler Neuberger Artist-in-Residence with National Dance Institute (NDI). Dance Informa had the opportunity to speak with Rea-Fisher about stepping into that new role, the values that undergird her work, what new ventures in the dance sector she’d like to undertake and more. A tireless dedication to equity, lifting up the next generation, and the power of possibility within artmaking shown through all that she said and she shared. Without further ado, we’ll hear from her.
You wear many hats, including artistic director, choreographer, dancer, curator, diversity advocate and educator. What helps you to find balance, to know where to invest your energy, when?
“I aim to do the most good in as many places as possible. I feel that the arts can be a vehicle for good – but they can also be harmful. I vowed that if I were ever in the front of the room, I’d be a good memory. If you really care about your craft, you have to care about the next generation that will carry the torch.
Additionally, when I started choreographing, I learned that you have to dig down into the well of your own experience. The arts are a great way to broach challenging topics, grounded in that personal experience. I’ll do it all as long as I can, but I also know that we can’t do this work forever.”
Among your recent works was choreographing for a production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest (produced through The Public Theater’s Public Works initiative, staged at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park). How we can keep such classic works truly relevant and vital into the modern day and beyond?
“Serving as a resident choreographer for The Classical Theatre of Harlem was a good foundation for working on The Tempest. It’s often said that you could put Shakespeare anywhere, in front of anyone, and it would still ring true – the themes are that universal. That was true with this program. I loved that it was an intergenerational public works project, with a cast of 80 performers.
At the same time, after the summer of 2020 [and the Black Lives Matter movement], what do we do with these works in the world as it is now? We can’t work ahistorically. We have to consider context and the ‘why.’ We have to ask what serves us now, and what doesn’t, as we move forward.”
You have been chosen as National Dance Institute’s 2024 Helen Stambler Neuberger Artist-in-Residence. What are you looking forward to in the role?
“My company, EMERGE125, is Harlem-based – 90 percent of our dancers live in Harlem. During COVID, we were sort of guinea pigs for the National Dance Institute (with studios close by) – to test protocols before they brought young students back in. From that, we used their space to rehearse. So, that connected me with the organization, and things moved forward from there. I’ve wanted to teach more, as well as invest in the local community. If I’m going to be there making work, I want to know the community that I’m in.”
What challenges do you anticipate in the role?
“I’ll be working with sixth through eighth graders, and I hope that they resonate with the material. The relationship with the choreographer can be symbiotic, and trust is established early. It’ll be a fun challenge!
I also hope that there’s hometown pride, the recognition that you don’t have to go far for great dance education and great dance art. And it also could be you, too; you could be at the front of the room next! It’s about you being you! When I walk into a room, I never know who I could inspire. I want us to tap into wonder, confidence and possibility.”
What next – are there other hats that you would like to wear in your career, other visions to realize?
“I hope to keep nurturing the next generation and providing opportunity. I believe that if you’re going to be a gatekeeper, keep your ear to the ground and make sure that it’s all not just the same, same, same. I’ve done theater choreography, which I’ve seen as a ‘summer gig’ – but I’ve been told, ‘No, you’re doing that and it’s you, you can use that title!’ It’s funny to realize what is already, which we may not always realize.
Other than that, I’ve thought that my ‘third act’ will be dance writing, and I have done some of that. lt lives on in such a different way than performance and choreography. Down the line, as things change, you’re accountable to ‘yes, I wrote that!’ That’s an interesting challenge.”
“And I hope that the overtone here is one of gratitude. I feel grateful and lucky that my hard work has paid off. I’ve tried to stay open and in a place of yes. I think that people see that, and it makes a difference.”
By Kathryn Boland of Dance Informa.