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Review – The 2nd Come Together Dance Festival Convenes

by Lewis Whittington for The Dance Journal

By chance I ran into choreographer Roni Koresh the day before the 2nd Come Together Dance Festival commenced as he was taking 10 minute stroll from his company’s studios on Rittenhouse Street to the Suzanne Roberts Theatre and delaying, as festival director, an evening of problem solving as before presenting 24 dance companies over the following five nights. Within moments, he gets a cell phone message from the festival’s stellar lightning designer Peter Jakubowski, about another tech tangle.

“See,“ Koresh says,“I’m not even there yet and it’s starting,” and wonders with a weary laugh “Why do I want to do this?“ Then he even wonders if audiences will show up in the middle of summer. Normal moments of pre-performance nerves that even veteran directors have to get out of their system.

Koresh knows that his team will handle it, but it still gets down to the do or dire theatrical wire very fast. Meanwhile, he was still deciding about the order of the opening night, switching back and forth about the festival opening order from Brian Sanders’ JUNK dance comedy to Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers meditative movement. Meanwhile, approaching the theater entrance, Koresh dancer Joe Cotler is coming the other way and he and Koresh embrace “Let’s go in.” Roni says, holding the door and in a flash, his game face is on.

The following evening, Roni and his brother Alon, his partner in organizing the festival, were beaming as they greeted virtually everyone in the crowded theater lobby where they hosted the festival’s opening night reception. The final few tickets had just been sold and they had a full house and a festival vibe was definitely in the air.

Just before the curtain went up, Koresh thanked the sponsors and said the festival was his way of giving back, recalling how welcoming Philadelphia was to him when he started out. The festival’s goal is to show the range and richness of the Philly dance and to celebrate the spirit of the collective arts community.

OPENING NIGHT, Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Brian Sanders' JUNK - Photo by Bill Hebert

Brian Sanders’ JUNK – Photo by Bill Hebert

The curtain went up on Brian Sanders’ JUNK performing ‘Dancing Deadand Sanders himself almost unrecognizable as gray bearded gravedigger inching around hunched moving corpses around (and waltzing with a skeleton) while Barbra Streisand sings ’Evergreen.’ The zombies then have a dance party to 70s pop hits including, drolly, Love Will Keep Us Together, Seasons in the Sun and One Less Bell To Answer. On this stage, Sanders devised a travel size version for six dancers of the original that was in a cavernous cellar rigged with apparatus that makes it more a zombie cirque du soleil. Sans the rigs, ropes and traps, the piece is drolly ethereal, (though less movement inventive) but saved by Sanders hilarious bone-crunching acrobatics.

Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers - Photo by Bill Hebert

Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers – Photo by Bill Hebert

Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers performed excerpts from Lin’s Mandala Project starts with the ensemble moving under a mass of gold fabric across the stage as a kinetic sculpture. The dancers spin out of this cluster and keep spinning. They carve out a series of meditative movement stanzas. Choreographer Lin conjures mysticism and dreamlike theatricality with a central trio lit as if from ancient Chinese lamps and casting mysterious shadows, highlighted by Liu Mo‘s air slicing leaps. In contrast, Jessica Warchal-King dances a quiet and serenely beautiful solo. The ending passage is a solo danced by Erin Shuman, in an elaborately layered robe, annotated with hypnotic Chinese classicism.

Two shorter works followed after intermission –

Chisena Danza - Photo by Bill Hebert

Chisena Danza – Photo by Bill Hebert

Chesina Danza’s Breathe is Melissa Chesina’s solo piece with the feel of a structured improv to the vocalizations by singer Katonya Mosley, with instrument accompaniment by percussionist Jonathan Cannon. Chesina moves reflexively to Mosley’s dramatic breathing, oscillating her body and pacing her movement at times in Butoh-esque slow motion. As the musicians get more rhythmic, Chesina incorporates styles from Indian dance and difficult crouched martial arts freezes, fusing techniques.

Changing the mood, next was former Pennsylvania Ballet dancer Heidi Cruz-Austin’s Ego in Flux which showed all of the strengths of her youthful company DanceSpora.Austin’s ensemble of nine pulses with esprit and relaxed theatricality. Cruz’s group configurations keep evolving with everyone taking center stage in the flash male-female duets.

Koresh Dance photo by Bill Hebert

Koresh Dance photo by Bill Hebert

Koresh Dance Company closed the program with a sampler of tightly arced vignettes by choreographer Koresh, from his larger repertory works. He opened with ’Fire’ which displays many company signatures of Israeli cultural dance, replete with dramatic ensemble circles and fiery expressionism. In contrast, Air on a String follows with Jessica Daley and Asya Zlatina in a playful and sensual duet floated on Bach’s music. Then there is a trio of comedies including 3D, lampooning classical ballerina positions and the even rowdier Kiss with Melissa Rector and Joe Cotler, dressed for Moliere, in a lusty, fast-forward seduction scene.

Stay tuned for more festival reporting through the weekend.

- Lewis Whittington

Lewis Whittington is an arts journalist based in Philadelphia. He started writing professionally in the early 90s as a media consultant for an AIDS organizations and then as a theater and dance reviewer for the Philadelphia Gay News. Mr. Whittington has covered dance, theater, opera and classical music for the Philadelphia Inquirer and City Paper.

Mr. Whittington’s arts profiles, features, and stories have appeared in The Advocate, Dance International, Playbill, American Theatre, American Record Guide, The Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, EdgeMedia, and Philadelphia Dance Journal. Mr. Whittington has received two NEA awards for journalistic excellence.

In addition to interviews with choreographers, dancers, and artistic directors from every discipline, he has interviewed such music luminaries from Ned Rorem to Eartha Kitt. He has written extensively on gay culture and politics and is most proud of his interviews with such gay rights pioneers as Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings.

Mr. Whittington has participated on the poetry series Voice in Philadelphia and has written two (unpublished) books of poetry. He is currently finishing Beloved Infidels, a play about the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh. His editorials on GLBTQ activism, marriage equality, gay culture and social issues have appeared in Philadelphia Inquirer, City Paper, and The Advocate.

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