Come Together charges out of the gate


Koresh Dance Company; Melissa Rector, Jessica Daley, Shannon Bramham
Photo credit: Alexander Iziliaev

By Lewis Whittington for The Dance Journal

There may have been chunks of empty seats at various performances of Koresh‘s Come Together Festival, but this ambitious event was so well organized and executed that it has to be reported as a rousing success. It reflected a healthy, diverse Philly dance scene. Roni Koresh told the audience on the last evening that “nobody got paid.” a significant comment after many of us saw such polished programming. Audiences were not only enthusiastic about the performance level but about the Koresh organization’s broader goals to provide substantive artistic support to smaller companies and to present a broad range of theatrical dance in Philly. The festival is an official expansion of Koresh’s studio showcases, which enhanced the community networking and makes a statement about being inclusive to any style and artist’s as Alon Koresh put it last week “has the same passion as we do.”

The 11 programs at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, for the most part, were crafted in cultural and dance diversity. Either by coincidence or design, seems to have the participating companies presenting showpiece works that would win crossover audiences. Works that exemplify what they are about aesthetically, but bypassing overarching concepts, that may read as too abstract, too academic or clever.

Kun-Yang Lin talking with dance fans in the Roberts’ Theatre lobby last week

Festival performance notes

Here are some highlights of some of the performance I attended. First, a disclaimer. Not all of the participating companies are represented, but nothing should be read into that. And second, this is not a review in the conventional sense, more observations of performances rather than casting a critical eye, plenty of time for the other in later festival if they continue. Though, I’m not sure how much tone I would actually change, because so far, to this editorial eye anyway, these companies and dancers have made the most of this new spotlight.

MAY 4-5

The 14 member Koresh Youth Ensemble danced Melissa Rector’s ‘Echoes‘ with less regimentation in some previous pieces. The hyper aggressive ensembles slow up and those passages bloomed to more interpretive phrasing, where the best moments are less breakneck and the personalities of the dancers can breathe. Rector’s ‘Potion’ by the Koresh Dance School also illustrated that this is choreographer expressing many ideas at once. A quartet danced with exquisite skill by Andrea Romesser, Blair Elliot, Alexis Guthrie and Carla Battaini. A tableaux of feminine power and mystique, it deconstructs those harem inducing images. The result is mysterious, lyrical and packed with liberated musicality.

Jumatatu Poe’s ‘Plastic City’ is a mash-up zombie scenario that flashes backward or forward to a car accident. It has been wisely edited from a performance at the Arts Bank last summer and is dancier. Poe’s  witty movement repartee with Shannon Murphy is both macabre and hypnotic. Still, it could still use a few  edits on some of the spoken text.

Evolution Dance Company ‘Transmigration‘ started with a very self-conscious scenario of societal intruders. A lot of dancer glaring and posing to underline the point of increasing xenophobia. Eventually, two women break off for a more athletic duet, then a communal circle has each dancer turning in different direction and this starts to uncork into meditative and lyrical dance.

Rennie Harris Pure Movement ‘Something to do with Love‘ excerpts of  two street scenes about two young couples. Danita Askew grooves to the side while four men execute old school break and hip-hop patterns, that continue to heat up when Katia Cruz comes on, with the guys just as solid in the background.  Backward entrances and lateral patterning keeps heating up in dizzying configurations. Askew and Cruz, meanwhile, provides counter-point sensuality within the double-tempo rhythms.

Koresh’s festival theme piece ‘Come Together‘ closed out the second half of the program. The full company piece is capped off with Roni Koresh’s Bolero. It is a Koresh Dance Company masterwork that is so choreographically solid that it keeps blooming in the mind. It is indelibly linked to a sexual tableau, Roni Koresh gets to that fast enough, but goes for so much more. This is a very sonic version of Ravel’s orchestral stunner by the London Philharmonic that illuminates its orchestral drive past a relentless, ascending erotic march. And you hear new things in the music, as Koresh picks up on a particular instrumentation, and lyrical mis-en-scenes. A dancer will do a step that will be developed 16 bars later. As the music heats up, the dancers break regimented accumulating into tribal patterns and cartoony depictions of tick-tocking legs, sudden waltzes, expressive port de bra and fandango tropes.

The choreographer has said the mechanical, primitive movement phrases are based on observation of primal child movement, the fragmentation and abstraction brings to mind what Picasso said about it taking him a lifetime to paint like a child. The company’s focus and performance level in this piece is nothing less than thrilling.

SHARP Dance Company’s  ‘Awakenings‘ choreographed by Kevin Ferguson has heavy handed themes floating around about death and transfiguration. The opening weighted movements had six dancers moving to a spoken monologue about a young man coming out and telling his family that he was dying of AIDS. Then mournful songs followed. After the set up Ferguson drops some of the theme literalness and gives the dancers, more to work with.

Carbon Dance Theatre‘s ‘Green‘ by Meredith Rainey has Julie Degnan, Ayanna Quander and Eiren Shuman as three put-upon ballerinas, positioned in static poses, but showing lots of attitude throwing precise pointe work. Shane Johnson, dressed in just booty shorts, moves them around or benignly walks around the stage, and sometimes just falls down. A toille tutu pull on is dropped off at his feet he puts it on and joins the rest of the ballerinas. Set to the music of Bjork, Rainey,  is at his ballet cryptic dance best.


MAY 8th

Brian Sanders’ JUNK opened with ‘Lever’ a gymnast dance with Theodore Fatscher and Jerrica Blankenship in one long precarious lift that kept evolving. The full company piece ‘Threshold’ is another breakneck prop piece with four doors being moved and thrown around to create various as geometric stage pictures, not to mention barriers and weapons. Then swinging light fixtures completed the obstacle course which had the dancers vaulting, diving, sliding and moving around in ways that would scare Busby Berkeley.

Raphael Xavier’s ‘Nick of Time‘ a mostly adagio hip-hop duet with the choreographer and Jerry “Sole Junky” Valme, scored to music by Xavier slows down the moves and you see the mechanics of such amazing moves as diagonal torso twizzles, inverted locking, head pirouettes and limb scramblers. Xavier, like Rennie Harris continues to explore and expand hip-hop and break theatricals.

DanceSpora’s ‘Angels Breath‘ choreographed by former Pennsylvania Ballet soloist Heidi Cruz-Austin. The piece is a quartet en pointe for the women in her company. After some beautiful ballet phrases, you pick up that the end poses look a bit off and their make-up is a bit scary and costumes are a little overdone. They fan their hands in a frenzy like they can’t take it anymore. Cruz-Austin gives them voluptuous balletic groupings and then moves them to poses of macabre beauty.

At the other end of the spectrum Philly Brat Pack Mastermix’ of Melodies has Ninja ready dancers starting mechanicals then they let their masks fly and time travel to hip-hop classics and some moldy oldies like Ice Ice Baby Baby, by the time it gets to the Macarena, they are unhinged. Razor sharp hip-hop unison by this troupe and fabulous esprit.

Repeats of Rainey’s ‘Green’ was next and even in the same week, it looks evergreen. Bolero closed this program, danced at full throttle. The Rock School presented young dancers in Flames of Paris.’ Regina Montgomery and Tomaha Terada brought the house down with their natural ease with Imperial ballet classicism. Montgomery held a dozen or more beautifully centers fouettes and Terada is astounding in the air, in fact, he was doing triple tours. Aside from the impressive level of balletic feats, these dancers exhibited fine partnering skills.  Rachel Richardson followed them with a solo that played to her gorgeous extension and stage presence, then Yukluro Tamora executed the Petipa’s male solo variation ‘Diane and Acteon’ slicing through and nailing the landings with precision and muscle.


MAY 9 & 12

Rennie Harris Pure Movement (RHAW) his junior corps just were on fire in Harris’ “Brother” set to James Brown’s “I’m a Good Man” and “El Barrio” by George Benson (staged by Harris with choreography by Moncell Durden.) Both pieces highlighting triple time foot scribbling, forward scissoring vaults, head pirouettes, gymnastic leg flairs, forward vaults from stand still positions. The degree of difficulty often just off the charts. Just as impressive as the explosive free-styles is the double tempo unison patterns. Harris continues to expand the template on new gens of hip-hop and its variants.

Keeping us on our aesthetic toes, hip-hop was jarringly followed by 10 dancers from Ballet Flemming with excerpts from Christopher Flemming‘s The Edge of Assurance‘ scored to music by Vivaldi. Some tentative movement phrasing in the pointe work made them struggle in the first half of their performance. The middle section, scored to “Flight of the Bumble Bee” orchestral, this troupe really went for it. Some of the couples lifts were rough going, but the ensemble pulled it together by the end with grit and elegance.

Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers performed a condensed version of their recent premiere ‘ONE-Immortal Game’ with fewer dancers. They scrapped the literal chess theme and could have dispensed with the intro which half-suggested the original concept of calling Chinese chess moves, Lui Mo’s visceral and ritualized solo suggests he is preparing for battle. The ensemble sections ripe with KYL/D signature meditative energy and athletic lyricism. ONE is a prime example of Lin’s multi-cultural aesthetic.

Just Sole:Street Dance Theatre ‘The Real World‘ catches a wing when the dozen dancers are going full-throttle. Choreographed by Kyle Clark and Dinita Askew, once it gets going this is a boisterous and fun expose mixing hip-hop idioms mixing jazzy show dance.

The final night contained final performances of Rector’s ‘Potion,’ RHPM/RHAW and Carbon Dance Theatre’s metaphysical “Through the Wake” by Meredith Rainey set to Strauss’ lieder with five dancers in other worldly tunics moving in canon streams and elegiac ballet phrasing symbolic of passage through life.

In immediate contrast, Tyger B’s Chapter 3’ brought back the robot in a comic set-up about mall hook ups to Jackson 5 and Justin Timberlake. But this isn’t the same old Soul Train line robot, Tyger’s technique would be closer to the artistry of a B-boy Marcel Marceau. The second tableau his partner joins him for a robotic tryst but one right move makes them breaks into a simmering salsa with a little club vogueing from the day on the side. The blend in this program ended this first festival with more than one bang. Koresh Dance Company reprised ‘Here We Are‘ and so they were for a fine festival finale that included their lustiest Bolero yet.



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