by Lewis Whittington for The Dance Journal
Photographs by Bicking Photography
Koresh Dance Company is known for culturally expansive choreography, earthy duets and uniform performance attack. For company member Joe Cotler, who has an imposing 6’2” dancer physique, he fits right into the 10-member troupe. He joined the company in 2010 after apprenticing with them for a year Cotler grew up in Batavia, NY, while on several high school sports teams, he was also game enough to pick up some dance classes at his mother Robin Cotler’s studio, Images in Dance.
Cotler revisits the tracks of his career in an interview at Koresh studios earlier this month as the company prepares for the Philadelphia revival of ev.o.lu.tion at he Suzanne Roberts Theatre.
Lew Whittington: Where did your exposure to dance come from?
Joe Cotler: Dance was very assessable because my mom has dance studios and I was always in them when I was growing up. I only started taking tap and a jazz class here and there. Her studio offered all styles. Her forte is contemporary modern. She taught me everything I know and took me all over the country, exposed me to many different teachers, so I could have a versatile background. I wasn’t just learning from her. I don’t think I would be anywhere without that type of training. I’ve been so fortunate.
LW: Do you remember the moment you decided to become a dancer?
JC: While in high school, I started taking technique class, ballet and modern. At the time, I was still playing a lot of sports- football, basketball, soccer and was in the ski club. My mom said to me ‘I don’t care what you choose, but you need to focus on one more than the other. So I decided that I loved dance more than sports and obviously that turned out to be the right decision.
LW: What was it like participating team sports and becoming a dancer?
JC: Somehow, I juggled that pretty well. In school I played basketball and football up until my sophomore year, soccer was more of a summer sport. I had to stop because of injury related things started to take a giant toll on the dance side of my life. So, I thought, eh…I can give up football.”
LW: It was so clear to you at that age?
JC: What was cool though was they in certain ways were feeding each other… the physicality from playing football helped me become strong at a young age. Taking ballet classes, jazz, modern, helped my agility tremendously on the field when I was playing football and soccer. Especially being a big guy to be able to more quickly through different patterns and plays that we had to run.”
LW: Still, it had to be hard doing both?
JC: Yes, running so much as a mid-field soccer player was taking a toll on his dancer body. I personally don’t like to run. No way would I do it now, I’ll take dance class instead.” Dance is a family business, his father Terry, runs the financial side. Joe’s younger sister Noelle Cotler Noel is also a professional dancer with Groundworks Dance Company in Cleveland.
LW: Is your sister also a taller dancer?
JC: Noelle is 5’3”. We taught each other. That’s how I learned how to partner.
LW: When did you start your professional dance career?
JC: My first professional job was at Six-Flags in New York when I was 16. When I got to college at the University of the Arts in the summer, I worked at Bush Gardens and Hershey Park. I even was saving money at school. I had such great connections at UArts. My teachers there were very helpful and I had such a great support system there. In my mid-college period, I began to do serious work. .
LW: Was Koresh a company you wanted to be a part of at this time?
JC: Actually, I saw Koresh Dance perform first while I was still in high school, when I visited the college. My mother and I both fell in love with them right away. After freshman year at college, I started doing Koresh’s ensembles every chance I got. Lucky for me, Roni he let me apprentice for a year until he could put me on contract. So I was able to jump from school right into this company. Jumping into this company was like being welcome into another family.
LW: How did you connect as an artist with Koresh choreography
JC: Roni’s choreography is aLew Whittingtonays evolving. I feel like a lot of that has to do with dancers he brings in. There is a lot of collaboration that happens. He’ll say I have an idea to this piece of music, and lets us try to come up with an idea or two I can use with this song. And he‘ll guide us, if it’s going in the right direction, he’ll keep it. If you look at us individually as dancers, we can all look different doing the choreography, but as a group, because the process is so detailed. We look like one dancer.”
LW: Has anything been particularly challenging for you, aesthetically or technically. As a taller dancer, for instance, do you have to work on certain things like flexibility more?
JC: I have to keep up with that, for sure. As a dancer you always want to build muscle at the same time have to keep flexible. I have to keep conscious of that because I can get tight very quickly. But a lot depends on the show that is coming up. I have a competitive nature as is so failing is hard for me. If I can’t get something I try harder to get it.
LW: How has it been preparing ev.o.lu.tion after coming off a ten-day tour?
JC: Bringing it back was easier for me because I had already done it. It‘s earthy and into the ground, primal and animalistic. We use a completely different muscle group than most of the other shows…we’re low to the ground, in second positions, we’re hunched and corked up. By the time we get through it my quads are jacked. This is one of my favorite shows I’ve done. It’s fun because I get to act like a crazy Neanderthal, apey person, not worry about my appearance, looks more real.
LW: It is packed with intense duets, do they have a storyline in themselves?
JC: Roni doesn’t usually have a narrative involved. Sometimes they will be more specific, because it is ’a private conversation’ more than a group piece. Roni has made the point, that sometimes the mistakes we make are the most beautiful things. So he will change choreography to make it look like that, because it is so real, human and natural. He wants everyone to be able to interpret. There is a very circular, organic feel to it. That’s another great thing for us. We’re not forced to do things that are uncomfortable.”
Cotler has had the chance to dance duets with off-stage partner Krista Montrone, who joined KDC 2011.
LW: Do you and Krista rehearse at home?
JC: We don’t generally do that. We are here so much, when we’re done with this we unwind. We’re just a couple at home…kick back a fall asleep. We’ve been partnering more recently in the company and it‘s really nice. We’ve been together for five years and it’s natural. Not that it isn’t with everyone else, but it really has been wonderful.
LW: Do you have any pre-performance rituals?
JC: Depends on how I’m feeling performance day. I go with the flow for the most part. Usually try not to eat to close to show time. Sometimes I take a nap right before warm-up. I try to stay calm and not overwork or get overexcited. Nerves are going to happen no matter what. If I’m constantly going over choreography or doing too much, that’s when I start second-guessing myself. Being confident in the fact that I know the show, have done it before and am ready to do it. Staying on that plane, helps me a lot.”
LW: Koresh has a heavy tour schedule. Is it something you enjoy?
JC: “We were just in Fort Collins, Colorado, first then flew to Houston, then drove from Houston to Tulsa, Oklahoma; We’ve been there for the three years in a row now. It’s demanding yes, but so much fun. We all get tired, but I love to travel personally, for some people it gets physically exhausting for them, but we get to go to places that we would otherwise probably not get to see. Even the small places we sometimes have more fun there. We meet new people, get to find a divvy new bar or restaurant. Expose people to a different style of dance. On the road, the company itself is its own support system, we’re always looking out for each other. Course my bag is loaded with energy packets and trying to get enough sleep.