Roni Koresh’s Mission with the Come Together Dance Festival

by Lewis J. Whittington for The Dance Journal

The annual Come Together Dance Festival convenes in mid-November in Philadelphia and promises to be the most ambitious festival The Koresh Dance Company has staged, with over 40 dance companies performing over five consecutive nights at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre.

Earlier this month, two days before taking his company on the road, company founder and artistic director Roni Koresh, was hanging out in front of their studios on Rittenhouse Street, in his signature studio director togs with his voluminous hair pulled back, just having finished up a day of rehearsals for sections of his new work that he is choreographing (that may be previewed in the festival) and to talk about the upcoming festival as well as a few other dance topics.

 “In every business, they say, the fifth year is the test to show that the roots are in and stabilized,” Koresh reminds as he remains optimistic about the festival’s goals, artistic and commercial.  He intimated that he actually has been “trying to make it smaller, but I was getting all of these applications and we were seeing all of this wonderful stuff. So the festival gets bigger.”

The Festival

The slate of companies that will be returning include Brian Sanders’ JUNK, Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers, Rennie Harris Puremovement, Just Sole and of course Koresh Dance, along with a host of Philadelphia troupes who will share the program with companies from other cities.

Two standouts new to the festival are the riveting New York based Peridance Contemporary Dance Company and Paul Taylor 2 Dance Company. The Taylor performances doubly poignant, since the legendary founder/choreographer, dancer legend Paul Taylor died on August 29, 2018.

Koresh notes that more than a third of the 46 companies performing in this year’s festival are from outside Philadelphia. The overarching goal is to have a high-profile exposure that shows Philadelphia as a dance destination and expansive dance community. “To create a place in Philadelphia, like APAP (NYC’s Association of Performing Arts Professionals) to attract agents and presenters who will see what’s happening in Philly dance and companies from all over the country.”   Eventually, Koresh hopes to present companies from other countries to perform in the festival.

The Right Stuff

Koresh says that his approach to curating the festival is to be as objective as possible.  His brother Alon, KDC executive director and his associate director Melissa Rector have worked to show the depth of the Philadelphia dance field each time out.

“I love Philadelphia dance.  I think there is a movement within the community itself to work to achieve a different level for the art form now… and I think the festival reflects that. When we started originally, it was about exposure to one another,” Koresh observes “there was isolation between companies…a ridiculous invisible competition.  I would always go see everybody. because it’s not about being better, but doing what you do at the highest level.”

“We don’t judge the work necessarily whether we like the work or not,” adding that, “you know, (I’m) just one audience member. We’re focused on the artistic quality, the execution, and their professionalism.”

Koresh has a slate of plans and even more ambitious goals for the festival, including making it a two-weeks in length, contingent on future funding. “It’s a lot cheaper to have it for two weeks, the lights are already set, it would be better for the companies coming in.” It would also bring more of a national spotlight on Philadelphia as a dance epicenter, which it already is, Koresh noted, just more people need to know it.

And a primary concern for Koresh is that he would want to provide the optimal artistic environment for touring companies, with everything they would need as far as accommodations and a completely supportive professional environment.

Dancers’ Life

Even though Koresh demands excellence for dancers seeking a professional career, he is a champion of all levels of dance but thinks it is imperative that dancers be realistic about the profession. The festival is one avenue to open up opportunities for dancers, Koresh says.

Koresh feels that more and more academic dance programs, no matter how nurturing, don’t do enough to prepare students for a professional career. Many of them “are telling students basically, that they can do whatever they want. There’s too much of that.

“I’ve had dancers who worked for years to get into my ensemble. And when they got in they earned it, I didn’t do them a favor, they earned it. They had specific goals they knew they had to meet. It is, in fact, the hardest job in the world to be a dancer,” and in his opinion artistically, the dance world has changed and “You have to be ready for everything.”

“Football players can be in shape but they don’t have to look good.  A dancer is a work of art; you have to work hard on your instrument.  Some dancers “come from no basic technique, are we going to teach people to be limited to one genre or one voice. Artists have to first be able to do exactly what they are told and follow before they start leading and throwing it all away.”

Koresh sees an academic shift in dance programs that leave out essentials.  He laments that American Masters like Martha Graham and Paul Taylor, for instance, are out of the modern syllabus in some academic training.  And “the only dance form that is American is jazz, has also been dropped,” in many curricula.

“I love hip-hop, and Gaga (the dance version of method acting) but is it more important than jazz?   but why would you want to have Gaga and not Graham?  There is a place for everything, but to replace it…is to disregard what are the pillars of technical expression.”

The Mission

“It is multi-faceted for what it needs to be to serve in the community.”  And that extends to the professional and student dancers “who can have more opportunities to be picked up.   “Not everyone here in Philly can be in Koresh, or Kun-Yang, or Danco or Pennsylvania Ballet…. not because they might not be good enough because only so many people can be in a company at any given time. There are a lot of people that are left in the wings.”

“We do a lot…our performance showcases are ongoing, the student outreach programs in eight schools, Melissa’s Youth Company, and our dance school, on top of our regular tours and programming.   It’s from our resources that build those things.”

Koresh points to his studio “I never opened this for me. I was happy-go-lucky, doing my thing.  I could have been a choreographer who just goes around and sets work on my company and other dancers, not deal with all of this and not lose sleep. But I am a teacher. This is all quite an endeavor, but the mission is clear.”

 

Come Together Dance Festival November 14-18 | Suzanne Roberts Theatre, Broad & Lombard St. Philadelphia. For the full festival lineup, performance times and tickets go to www.koreshdance.org 

 

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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