Come Together Dance Festival dances on

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

The Come Together Dance Festival, hosted by the Koresh Dance Company, attracted enthusiastic and two near sell-out crowds last weekend at Suzanne Roberts Theatre. The five- day festival hosted over 40 dance companies, featuring a substantive line-up of local and national dance troupes, independent artists and dancer-choreographers. The programs designed to build cross-over audiences by presenting multiple genres on the concert stage – modern and classical dance on the same bills everything from folkloric, jazz, tap, improv, hip-hop, and works by choreographic auteurs who carve new dance territory. There was the expected healthy attendance from members of the Philly dance community, but by a show of hands during one Roni Koresh’s audience chats, many in the audience were first-time attendees     

August 19th Highlights

Philadanco | Folded Prism (excerpt)
Vietnamese choreographer and former Philadanco dancer Thang Dao created a duet on Danco’ dancers Rosita Adams and Victor Lewis, Jr. in his ballet ‘Folded Prism’ and reprised in this performance by the couple with breathtaking clarity.  Set to meditative piano music by John Levis, Adams and Lewis sumptuous adagio pacing in steely lift patterns, and sculpted lines that keep evolving.

Al-Garcia Rameau | Chaconne (excerpts)
‘Chaconne’ set to driving violin music, a dynamic solo by Al-Garcia Rameau is overpacked with frenzied upper body and arm movements that at times looks like she trying to land a plane.  It might have a less distracting context in the full work, but here distracts from Rameau’s inventive ballet variations featuring crisp brise vole passes, and a pirouette run that develops in unexpected ways.

Project Moshen Dance Company | Battleground- excerpt from “Coming Home”
Choreographer Kelli Moshen’s troupe of seven women in excerpts from ‘Battleground’ and in full dance attack formation the features the company’s propulsive geometric choreography, punctuated with dancer stare downs toward  the audience.  The velocity and energy of Project Moshen is their winning formula, but they also completely delighted and surprised in this performance when dancers Danielle McGilligan and Kate Book remained onstage for a jazz duet with the coolest jive lindy moves to Duke Ellington’s orchestra ‘The Swinger’s Jump.’

Bernard H. Gaddis | Gabriel’s Sorrow
Former Philadanco and Alvin Ailey principal dancer Bernard Gaddis is now founder of Contemporary West Dane Theatre in Las Vegas. He performed his solo ‘Gabriel’s Sorrow’ for the festival and from the moment the light hits him, bare-chested and in a voluminous white skirt, he spellbinds with his impeccable technique and towering stage presence. He floats into spiral arabesques and his artistry is present in every phrase as he tells this story of the angel Gabriel’s grief for humanity, set to cinematic music by Hans Zimmer.

Dana Powers-Klooster | For Now
Set to meditative music by Michael Wall titled ‘Heaven’s Dust’ by, dancers Sean Thomas Boyt and Jennifer Yackel are seated side by side on the stage and writing cryptic messages in the air, then pitch their bodies forward or repeatedly rise on their knees. Their deflated expressions give no further clues as to what they are doing, and the movement is so minimal that it is hard to get lulled into its pure physicality.  What remains interesting though is the reserve of these dancers to, giving nothing away with their eyes or bodies, remaining completely committed to the choreography.  They intrigued and the final haunting passage spoke volumes.

Rennie Harris PureMovement | Excerpts
Choreographer Rennie Harris’s three- part dance depicting a spiritual family at odds.  Phillip Cuttino, Joshua Culbreath, Katia Cruz portray the family in turmoil starts with to church as the step-father and son spar the mother tries to make peace.  Harris depicts this with some humor as phrases are paused, the soundtrack and movement repeated backward in fast motion.  ‘God’s House’ choreographed by Raphael Xavier is an all-out praise dance with little variation, but tons of spirit. But it was Joshua Culbreath’s electrifying ending solo ‘Doubt & Dolo’ in which he talks to God through with some mind-bending hip-hop virtuosity.

Retro Flow |Dank Submission
Joshua Culbreath essayed more astounding hip-hop moves, in a duet with partner Jerry Valme. Culbreath walked onstage on his hands, shirt over his face and they were side by side in mirroring movements in multi-era hip-hop and break lexicon.  It unfolded as a mentor, student tableau, but soon Culbreath was supporting Valme and the roles are switched.

Asya Zlatina | Belz, the Way It Was (Barry: Mamaloshen In Dance!)
Choreographer-dancer Asya Zlatina flowing lyrical dances for an ensemble of five women scored to Yiddish songs “Tum Balalaika” and “Betz” sung by the Barry Sisters. This intimate communal in celebration of Zlatina’s grandparents and traditions of the early part of the 20th century.  Zlatina and Gina Shifferly dance the opening duet excerpt, depicting their tenderness and the strength of familial bonds.  The other dancers join for Zlatina’s homage in luminous remembrances of dances past.

August 20th Highlights

Closing night of the festival displayed the most wide- ranging line-up of companies, some not taking full advantage of the festival spotlight. Roni Koresh made brief comments on the final night assuring that the Koresh team was already organizing the next one, with the new initiatives to showcase Philadelphia as a national and international nexus for dance.    

Among the night’s strongest performances were two choreographed by Melissa Rector, assistance director of the Koresh Company and artistic director of the Koresh Youth Ensemble.

Melissa Rector | Funny, but…?
Dancers Kate Axness, Sydney Donovan, Amy Novinski, Keila Perez-Vega, Andrea Romesser and Sarah Shaulis are in a chorus line dressed in short bloomers and moving to a galloping baroque orchestral by Kerry Muzzey. They are a flirty ensemble, but they are just getting a few human moments in before they drop to the floor and start scrubbing, and hauling like indentured charwomen.  They may be depicting another era, but their reality is a satirical metaphor in our time.  Meanwhile, Rector’s character movement is biting, witty and completely delightful.  And this ensemble cleans up the dancestage in more ways than one.

Later Rector’s second piece, titled ‘Checkmate’, is a hilariously raucous dance comedy with Kevan Sullivan, Tommy Gant and Jose Mangual as the bullish male trio horsing around over a game table and ignoring dancers Courtney Conigatti, Fang Ju Chou Gant, Perez-Vega and Romesser who are stunningly dressed in velvet dance dresses and  moving so alluringly. But the gents couldn’t be bothered so the ladies dance on their own, sweeping over the stage in sumptuous patterns. The men try to win them back with some alluring moves of their own, just before they are reeled off-stage.

Lady Hoofers Tap Ensemble| Medusa
Choreographer Kat Richter uses the Medusa story as symbolic subtext for the ten hoofers as they tap inner rhythms to the Mississippi folksong ‘Don’t Leave Nobody but the Baby’ and’ Freedom’ by Damien Escobar The Hoofers are have their own stories to tell with cool precision and polished ensemble clarity.  Richter, who also dances (and is a dance journalist) continues to tell great stories in tap and step idioms, less reliant on tricks and traditions and more innovative tap artistry.

Michael and Leilani | El Bembe
Michael Huang and Leilani Chirno bring the very understated showdance partnering in the  Cuban ‘El Bembe’ style.  Huang is the very underpowered leader with minimal footwork by Huang but frames Chrino’s exuberance.   And Haung almost seems asleep in the lead until some flash breaks and pirouette that has Huang spinning all the way down to the floor in a slo-mo salsa pirouette.

Abigayle Cryderman | Boundless
Choreographer Cryderman’s pas de deux for Patrick McCrae and Anthony Milian is unambiguously expressive of a gay relationship.  McCrae and Milian’s in tumbling movements, lifts and interlocks that express strength, tenderness and commitment of a gay couple with all the deepest intimacies built in, including sexual ones.  A breath of liberated air for the dance stage, when so many choreographers, hint at same-sex relationships, but distill the meaning by making it inferred instead of an explicit central theme.

Koresh Dance Company | Bolero
Choreographer Roni Koresh’s masterwork scored to Maurice Ravel’s eroticized orchestral march.   Koresh’s creates dance fantasia and conjures one of the most seminal eras in music and dance.  Its entre act is Edith Piaf’s version of ‘La Vie En Rose’ with the full company facing away from the audience and just bouncing, then the snare drum of Bolero begins and dancers appear and vanish in Peter Jakubowski’s brilliant lighting scheme.  The troupe in childlike romps with his legs pendulous appendage and ritualized pelvic thrusts the next.  Duos and trios swing into salty tangos or suddenly swarm together for a repeated motif (during Ravel’s ever ascending fortissimo) thrusting their arms in the air like they are grabbing life itself.  When it crescendos the spotlights blaze then flame out as the dancers start stagger away as if they are spent.  This piece never loses its mystery or its performance mystique.  Ravel would approve.

The lusty applause brought the festival to a close and with Roni Koresh inviting everyone in the theater to join them for a festival finale nightcap at Twenty Manning Restaurant located just a few dance steps away from the Koresh studios in Rittenhouse Square. 

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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