Diversity highlights the Koresh Come Together Dance Festival

by Lewis J Whittington for The Dance Journal | Photo credit: Julianne Harris

Koresh Dance Company’s artistic director, Roni Koresh launched The Come Together Dance Festival four years ago as an extension of the dance showcases he has hosted at the company’s studios over the years, that has evolved into an ever-expansive collective of regional dance.  Despite the success of the first three festivals, Roni and his brother Alon (company executive director) had to skip staging it last year due to lack of funding. They have since regrouped and the 4th annual festival re-convened this week with over 40 regional and national companies performing over five nights of performances and events at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre on Broad Street in Philadelphia.

Featuring a deep field in a wide unlimited range of established dance styles and some not so fused disciplines, it is a panoramic view of where dance in America is in ethnic diversity, independent voices and choreographic range. As PHILADANCO director, Joan Myers Brown noted at the last festival discussion of company artistic directors, Come Together does indeed “Look like America.”

Roni and Alon kicked things off on August 16 with a festival champagne toast with the audience in the theater lobby minutes before the curtain went up on opening night.

Here are a few capsule review highlights of the first two nights of this year’s festival…

Festival Night One – August 16th

JUNK | …strand…(excerpt)
Choreographer Brian Sanders previewed his upcoming outdoor Fringe show called …strand…  Theodore Fascher enters the stage in just a dancebelt, his face hidden under a savage mop of hair and splayed atop his head is Julia Higdon, appearing lifeless, he swings her, and their bodies melt together in tumbling interlocks. The twist ending reveals all. That chilling tableaux is followed by Sanders shuffling onstage with a shopping cart and pint trying to camp out on a park bench, but William Robinson and Fascher come on and for acrobatic funsies, they do handstands on his cart and fly over a couple now making out on the bench in dazzling tour en l’air as Shostakovich’s sardonic Jazz Suite waltz plays and Sanders takes a slug.

Chisena Danza | Entrapment
Marie Brown and Melissa Chisena are bound in yards of silk purple fabric (ingenious morphing costume design by Patricia Domingez) in which Chisena’s dramatic arm gestures and expressive upper body momentarily recalls Graham’s Lamentation.  Brown is revealed behind Chisena in her garment panels, moving in counterpoint of taut violin music by Bela Bartok. Chisena’ effect of a ghost dance image evokes inner turmoil, and is characterized with the searing violin music by Bela Bartok.  In tandem, the dancers carve out dramatic shapes and expressiveness with their hands and faces that burst out of the folds of the garment.

Moving Image Dance Projekt| Escape the Enemy
Choreographer Molly Misgalla collaborating with the cast of seven dancers for her piece ‘Escape the Enemy’ scored to music by a suite of songs by several groups.  The opening ensemble sections with rushed pacing, lots of running and have understated messages. One dancer, for instance, finishes a jump and turn sequence with a phrase that looks like he is being tasered.  The choreography and performance level has more focus and ensemble unison toward the end and features a riveting breakout pas de trois danced by Michele Dooley, Kareem Marsh and Jace Gonzales.

ANI Gavino/Malayworks | Ina
A standout duet by Filipino artist ANI Gavino and Nigerian dancer-choreographer Kingsley Ibeneche. Gavino opens ‘Ina’ with her back to the audience, the muscles of her body undulating in isometric movement that hypnotizes. Ibeneche follows with an equally distinctive cultural movement language.  Gavino trained at Philippine Ballet Theater and combines various formal and hybrid forms.  This piece is their exploratory, and spellbinding, dance cultural exchange.

Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers| Santuario (excerpts)
Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers showed excepts of Santuario and this meditative and thought-provoking work honoring the victims of the Pulse Nightclub shootings, premiered last spring and continues to become more eloquent and polished as it deals with very weighty social themes.  Lin’s vivid choreographic artistry is both elegiac and a powerful dance polemic.

Gierre J Godley/PROJECT 44 | No String Attached
Godley investigates assigned perceptions of the male dancer and a duet by Godley opens with minimal comedic moves to a delirious song titled ‘The Island Mabogo’.  His partner Jarred-Bosch Watford enters and they get dodgy with each other in a push-pull lovers’ dance.  It’s all tongue in gay cheeky, but more of a studio dance than one that can fill the stage, but this audience was delighted by this pair, so maybe I missed something.

Just Sole! Street Dance Theater Company| Moments
Kyle and Dinita Clark co-choreographed ‘Moments’ a primer in hip-hop basics.  Stripped for the most part of narrative, this is a showcase for ensemble craft and some brief virtuosity.  The 10-member troupe seemed a bit static at points in this performance, but wing in the last section imbued by the rhythms of the gospel organ pulse of “Yellow, Yellow” by Calvin Fallow.

Koresh Dance Company |  several short works by Roni Koresh
A suite of dances opened with ‘Gates’ a signature full company work, that looked a bit lumbered in this performance, but later, the other full company piece ‘Out/line’ was danced with attack and esprit de corps. In between these larger works were Koresh’s duets.

‘Lake’ with dancers Fang-Ju Chou Gant and Casey McIntyre in black tutus (ala Odile) as punchy ballerinas mocking Swan choreo with wobbly piques, derriere pranks and irresistibly nimble entrechats. Andrea Romesser is the Chaplinesque ‘Girl With the Hat’ with her bowler and dance pantomime allure set to a music hall orchestral.  In ‘Kiss’ Melissa Rector and Joe Cotler in baroque garb in a chase- me -till- I- catch you sex romp as they tease, pet and claw each other trying to get the upper hand or move- this is dance buffa par excellance.

 

Festival Night 2 – August 17th

Still some empty seats at the second night August 17 performance, but an enthusiastic crowd nonetheless.  Roni Koresh introduced the evening by profusely thanking all the dancers for their commitment to the festival and reminding the audience that the dancers, artistic directors were not being paid to perform at the Come Together Festivals so far. A situation he hopes will change going forward. He also noted the vital underwriting that made the festival possible a very generous private donation from “my best friend” Richard Glassman, who gave him a blank check. “I didn’t go overboard,” he said, “but, you know, I used it.”    

Selected performance moments…

Nika Antuanette | The Itch
Scored to a driving piano work by Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble, Nika Antuanette solo flows with silky spirals and extensions on minute to extreme turned in, collapsing leg and painfully twisted arms. At one point Antuanette claws over the stage on her knees ala the Cossack dancers. Her moves are sculptural and equally beautiful as her expressions in ballet.

 Ballet Inc | Les Sentiments
Beethoven’s ‘Hammerklevier’ is notoriously challenging for pianists, but in the hands of choreographer Aaron Atkins it provides classical dance magic for dynamic partners Chloe Slade and Denzel Taylor.  Slade so natural on pointe, she can drop to a deep plie from 5th position and float back up with ease.  Taylor’s muscled lyrical style exemplifies postmodern danseur.  Their chemistry ignites with Atkins’ variations of classical vocabulary.

Hot Crowd | Neither Here Nor There
Choreographer Emily Ashburn, Sam Crouch and Jacqueline Dennis kneel facing away from the audience, Crouch’s head flops back, there is stillness and sudden micro-moves that give way to a series of standing and low to the ground interlocking torsos and limbs. Ashburn holds the other dancers dropping heads (as we are scratching ours) intimacies are hinted at but- are they lovers, siblings, friends? or are they merely bodies moving in space? but however cryptic, this trio filled the stage with movement ideas.

Independent Artists | Our Beginning
Choreographer Alison Pray Ward’s pointe shoe quartet has such lyrical beauty that it is easy to forget the elite technical level of these dancers – Rachel Maher Duncan, Julianna Farr, Amanda Hill and Gina Marie Shifferly. Ward doesn’t need ballet pyrotechnics to dazzle, there is technical and liberated artistry by these dancers with every phrase and defining transitional steps.  Each dancer’s imprimatur is present and their ensemble synergy hypnotic.

Just Sole! Street Dance Theater Company | Club Life
Just Sole was back with choreographer Kyle Clark’s Club Life, the dancers even more dazzling than the night before with Clark’s razor-sharp unison choreography.  Among the standouts scorching the hip-hop floor again tonight were Jazmin Gilbert and Marcus Branch.

Footwerx | You Speak Your Mind
Matthew Soojian was the leading man among five women tappers and his straightforward tap style might have look from a bygone era, but Soojian’s distinct tap-piston drive, has a soft-shoe litheness and ease.  This sextet wowed the crowd with its lean dynamics and infectious charm.

Koresh Dance Company
Another set of short works by Koresh starting with ‘Moonlight’ scored to Beethoven’s famous Sonata, Koresh slowing things down choreographically for eight dancers scattered over the stage in witty, agitated Koreshean phrases that nevertheless fit right in with Ludwig van’s somber atmospherics.  ‘Love before language’ is an inspired piece danced Melissa Rector and Micah Geyer, in top form as the primeval couple, who can only grunt and screech as they physically try to articulate their emotions, and engage in some precarious foreplay. ‘Sense of Touch’ the end piece, with many Koresh ensemble signatures configurations features an extended pas de deux danced with thrilling theatricality and athleticism by Kevan Sullivan and Vanessa Quintos.

As usual the artistry and inventiveness of lighting designer Peter Jakubowski is inestimable.

About Lewis J. 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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