Flesh and the dance devil

Jillian Mueller as Alex Owens. Photo by Jeremy Daniel

by Lewis Whittington for The Dance Journal

The body beautiful is an aspect of dance that can be easily exploited. Two shows, from opposite ends of the dance spectrum, featuring scantily clad dancers, challenge audiences not to objectify – Koresh Dance’s  Through the Skin and Flashdance, the Musical.  In contrast to the sexy poster art for both show,  they both un-voyeuristically sing the body electric.

Choreographer Roni Koresh revisited the two-act concert Through the Skin (2011), playing to plum houses at the Roberts Theatre. The lengthy work is made up of 15 sections packed with ensemble signatures  principal among them, the choreographer’s aggressive, erotic partnering,  ‘Skin’ is a good representation of Koresh’s expansive dance template, with killer athleticism, but also, his increasing use of adagio phrasing, for instance, that allows you take in a lyricism that is often lost in the velocity of many of his pieces.

The opening duet ‘Flesh’ is danced with hypnotic reserve by Jessica Daly and Robert Tyler, in their skivvies, with moves that convey intimacies beyond just sex, even as she flings herself backward and clasps her legs around him. They fan kick over each other’s heads, there is an unquestioned aura of physical trust, which perhaps is the most erotic state of all.


Koresh Asya Zlatina and Jessica Daley. photo by Frank Bicking

In contrast during ‘Skin and Bones’ Micah Geyer, Joe Cotler, Christa Montrone, Asya Zlatina – characterize two intense male-female relationships with issues. The couples they mount each other and shove each other around in aggressive tangles, they get pugilistic in fact, but not necessarily literal meaning, but these are physical manifestations of angst. Koresh doesn’t make any of it resolved or brutal, just unromantic, with an ambiguous raw arc that packs a punch.

Geyer comes out of the quartet bout crumbled downstage in a fetal position and Melissa Rector suddenly appears in a dramatic shaft of light. There is resolve in their following sensual duet has so much sexual energy on top of edgy lift patterns from prone positions and some elegant rolling around, romance may be in the air, but is it inferred or implied. Another duet ’Our Eyes Met…and you were gone’ with Fang-Ju Chou Gant and Joe Cotler conveying a haunted, undefined physicality.

The second part has four full company sections, one everyone moving and most of the time the ensemble is in their revealing togs, but there is no prurience, a dancers body is, after all, their instrument. The ensemble partnering chairs is the most contemplative movement study, even will everybody in revealing Cks. And, in the end, this company doesn’t tease, it is ready to deliver body and soul.

Prurience is, though very much a part of Flashdance, The Musical, since it is already part of the story. Based on the iconic dance 80s mega-movie about Alex Owens, welder by day and artsy exotic dancer by night, who dreams of being accepted at Shipley Ballet Academy.  Alex and her grinding co-workers  Gloria, Tess and Kiki sing ‘Put it On’ an homage to ‘You Gotta Have a Gimmick’ from Gypsy. but the women but might be forced to take it all off at the full-frontal at the joint down the block. The Act I ends with that Maniac (she can cut you with her knife) Alex being scorchingly drenched with water in nudey silhouette.   Act II is even Flashdancier with the pole -dancers twirling above the coked out meltdown of Alex’s best friend Gloria, who has turned into a stripper zombie.

Director-Choreographer Sergio Trujillo (Memphis, Leap of Faith) has a deep field dance template and smoothly mixes show dance stylizations with undiluted scenes of authentic ballet. The ensemble women can not only handle the industrial pole dancing, they can double into authentic pirouette runs and pas de bourees in the ballet studio.  Trujillo lets the dance ringers vamp on the poles, but not in pointe shoes, where they have to bring amplitude to jetes and precision to their pas de bouree. At one point one of the men throws an aerial layout right out of La Bayadere, no less.

The specificity in the street dance and the precision in the studio work, is meaty and danced by this ensemble with attack and esprit. Some of the dancers have training on both sides of the dance barre, from hip-hop troupes, show dancing in such versatile multi-genre contemporary ballet troupes as Complexions, Rasta Thomas’ Bad Boyz of Dance and BalletMet.  There is also very specific 80s street styles-  with fearless breakers, pop and lock robotics and 1st generation hip hop. Trujillo keeps embraces the period kitsch, with leg warmers, ripped danskins and sculpted hair.

As Alex, Jullien Mueller doesn’t have clarity and speed on pirouettes, but she has diamond in the rough talent moxy for the finale of course, is her audition for acceptance in the school in the black bra and bikini sports bottom and the sexiness is on the front burner. And unlike Jennifer Beals, there is not body double for the turn sequences and no editor to make it look faster, higher and cleaner. She has to make her fall to the floor on a turn sequence look real. It is just as exciting in a real-time version onstage as it was in the movie. Flashdance, is a full out dance musical and a reminder that the 1983 movie was prescient to where ballet companies would be in 20 years- when everyone would be ‘dancing for my life’ more than ever…

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