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By Jane Vranish / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Choreographer Elisa-Marie Alaio had a secret. She recently revealed an eight-year struggle with an eating disorder at a benefit for The Emily Project, a national organization that has opened a branch in the Pittsburgh area to help both men and women.

But that struggle has made her stronger when it comes to “accepting my body, who I am and my image, and not constantly wanting to improve it,” she says.

That strength has added a taut dramatic thread in her work for fireWALL Dance Theater, a part of Off the Wall Productions in Carnegie. In a little more than two years, she has created five pieces with a definite emphasis on female empowerment.

Her latest work,“Eff.Ul.Gents,” is derived from the more dictionary-friendly definition “effulgence,” meaning the “most extreme form of light.” But it could be interpreted, Ms. Alaio says, as a feminist twist on her contemporary male perspective.

With original music by Reni Monteverde, the work is divided into three sections and signals a new direction for the 24-year-old Point Park University alumna.

The Brooklyn native moved to Los Angeles nine months ago but remained committed to fireWALL for her ongoing choreographic series. Now it will give her the opportunity to blend East and West Coast dance styles. West Coast is “contemporary movement, very commercialized, a little more entertaining in my opinion, more exciting and a little more in your face,” she says.

Currently a member of Geometry Dance Company in Los Angeles, she has been stepping out of her comfort zone with classes in jazz funk, burlesque and heels (as in dancing in stilettos).

East Coast style is “more about your technique, your facility, your body and the images that you make with it,” with an emphasis on modern and ballet.

“Eff.Ul.Gents” will incorporate it all. The first section, with an array of light bulbs, will present the all-female cast. Although it focuses on pure, natural beauty, fear provides the driving voice in exploring their humanity.

The second section is the most feminine, with the women draped in lingerie and wearing black bobbed wig. Here’s where Ms. Alaio first inserts her poetry, written with a friend, which explains the title and a former intimate relationship.

The final movement embraces the women’s most masculine side, with androgynous black suits. They are trapped inside a cage, trying to get out.

The piece captures her life’s journey, she says.

“I’ve reached that point in my life where I don’t want to improve. I just want to be me.”

Former Post-Gazette critic Jane Vranish: She blogs at

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