by Lewis Whittington for The Dance Journal
Saturday, July 26
Day four of The Come Together Dance Festival had everyone sitting on the edge of their dance seats from the start for Rennie Harris PureMovement in a ’Nuttin But a Word’ with music by Osundale and Raphael Xavier, and his core troupe of six dancers in motion on a launch pad of lightening hip-hop rhythms. The music goes from electronia percussive that keeps the dancers in hip-hop neutral, as Harris digs deeper into the music when the soundtrack locks on a journeying jazz-funk groove and Harris just busts ’Word’ open. Some of the lines in the music are transcribed to hand geometry, that is just as intricate and dazzling as the footwork.
Harris’ mach speed configurations just flow together like a torrential dance stream. This piece is exemplar of Harris’ choreographic freshness in this genre, he never stops writing new vocabulary not limited to dazzling tricks and acrobatics. Among standout sequences from all the dancers is Brandyn Harris fluid robotic solo is punched through another dimension.
Introspective Movement Project took on the task of following Harris’ fireworks with Phenomally Rising: The Fruits of the Dreams of Men, choreographed by Sonia James Pennington. Natalia Baxter dances a solo to Nina Simone’s progressive jazz art song reading of ’Strange Fruit’ Natalia Baxter moves with somber grace evoking the themes of the song. The full ensemble of six women then perform to Maya Angelou’s poetic manifesto on the power, dignity and beauty of generations of African American women vanquishing slavery, racism and misogyny. Pennington literal dance interpretations bring forth Angelou’s polemic force, but the words, not the movement remained more memorable. Still, this is piece made me want to see more work by this choreographer and these dancers.
Also with clear social messages but more dance focused is Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers ’Be/Longing 2’ scored to Cory Neale alternately lyrical and clamorous score. This is a lengthy excerpt from the full piece that premiered earlier this year. Impressive that KYL/D’s performed two different, full- company works two days apart in this festival. Be/Longing’s theme of finding order in a dangerous and chaotic world is expressed through dancers clustering together in frantic packs, alternately in gorgeous communal movement, other times as polarized fields of agitated and aggressive energy. Lin is a strong narrative dance artist, attendant to the theatrical arc of a piece. It is part of Lin’s artistry that he conjures such metaphysical expressions in a way that hypnotizes rather than lectures. Be/Longing could loose some the repeated sequences to the benefit its powerful commentary and lyrical power.
Just Sole: Street Dance Theater danced Who Am I with co-choreographed by Kyle and Dinita Clark. Lead dancer Marcus Branch is having a dream about his school and camaraderie of his friends. The Clarks use of minimal pantomime to set the urban and urbane street scene highlighted by hip-hop idioms that keep heating to a pulsing groove down. As with the Harris piece, the transitions are very well structured and the launch-pad for individual talents, as well as dazzling esprit de corps all spelling dance fireworks.
Not an easy spot to follow, but Destany Churchwell did so winningly in her piece ‘Malefic Tumult’ a danse macabre that has her curled up in a chair resembling one that would be used in Specter de la Rose, but instead of a petaled Nijinsky flying through the window, it’s shadowy specters interrupting Churchwell‘s naptime as well as devilish Philip Glass music. The four dancers are in hooded black bodygloves (like the snaky unit guy writhing around in Madonna‘s video Justify My Love) who spook Church and fling her around, almost dropping her at one point.
Koresh Dance Company closed with the same selections of the previous night. But a reminder that it might be the same material but each performance is a unique experience, especially viewing from a different angle there is always some more to observe, positive or negative, and always instructive.
Sunday, July 27
Of the fourth night of the festival was the most theatrically balanced, but the finale festival performance showed the most dance genre variety. The program opened with two short Koresh Company repeats of What a Wonderful World and 8th Ave. And have to admit unfortunately to some drifting attention the 3rd time round in a week, but clocking the audience reaction, they were obviously in the dance moment.
BalletFleming followed with ’café Music’ a jaunty, paint by numbers ballet set to salon chamber music by Paul Schoenfield. Christopher Fleming’s choreography has pretty moments, but the seven dancers’ classical technique was erratic, many struggled with unison point work and crucially on the transitional steps. The central male-female duet, as danced, is too lumbering for the couple to convey much chemistry, while trying to detangle lifts. The last ensemble section, more up tempo, was danced with more exuberance and performance attack, next time out, the troupe should start from there.
Raphael Xavier ‘Still’ (reviewed previously 7.25) was next, followed by Alchemy Dance Company in Beggars and Choosers, choreographed by Amy Harding an industrial club dance for six women. Their fetishta cutaway outfits were accessorized by lethal audience stare downs and runway strutting. Some tighter group sequences show potential, but Harding moves the dancers around in very basic video style patterns that are flashy but not pumped with enough choreographic fuel.
Meaty choreography was not an issue for The Lady Hoofers Tap Ensemble dancing Reinvention with choreography by Theresa DiSipio and Amy Smith A lamppost and some milk crates set the filmic scene for some street tap- a capella with the eight hoofers tapping in bare feet. They tap out a rap backbeat and quicksilver slide to classic tap patterns (loved the percussive sampling of a famous, and very difficult, Gregory Hines group riff). Eventually, the dancers put their taps on and keep blending routines. The Hoofers not only can spark the floor, they take tap in unexpected directions.
Rennie Harris PureMovement opened the second half with Nuttin but a word (reviewed 7.26) and the contrast of it being following five dance scenes d’ actione by The Rock School for Dance Education underlined the elite caliber of the many dance styles represented in Philly. Among the many highlights -To say soloist Zachary Downer commanded the stage in Shades of Marble choreographer by Justin Allen is an understatement. Downer is bordering on danseur noble already with his air-slicing aerials with hang time, steel centered turns and impeccable balletic line, for starters, not to mention a lazar focused stage presence. If his name is known on ballet stages around the world after he leaves the Rock School it will be a surprise to no one who saw his performance on this night. Noire et Blanc, also choreographed by Allen, for 8 ballerinas and 4 males, was a charming and technically rich ensemble dance. The young women in black tutus in fluid, razor sharp pointe lines and Kirov worthy arabesques. The men hurtling in double tours with precision air to floor unison.
Koresh Dance Company closed the festival with their wildly popular signature work Bolero scored to Maurice Ravel’s iconic march erotica, in a scorching version by the London Philharmonic. Koresh’s choreography deliberately follows more subtle instrument lines that are usually lost in the Ravel’s brassy surface. His witty movement threads like partners switching in tango episodes, or fragmented animations that fit together unexpectedly, paint a movement pastiche evoking the primitive-modern milieu of Ravel’s time. The Koresh dancers make the spirit of that as relevant as ever.
Roni Koresh expressed on the final day that the festival was in fact very emotional for him in seeing not only the range of styles and the caliber of the performance, but the community of dance artists from all over the region supporting each other. As he told audiences the companies were performing in the festival without pay, but for the opportunity to come together and present their work in the best light. And speaking of best light, kudos to lighting designers Peter Jakubowski and Alyssandra Docherty, designing with specificity to each company’s particular aesthetic.