5th Annual Koresh Come Together Festival Convenes (Part 1)

by Lewis J. Whittington for The Dance Journal

The Come Together Dance Festival convened for the 5th year at the Suzanne Roberts Theater in Philadelphia, with over 40 companies, most Philadelphia based, and more than a dozen others from around the country.  The Festival’s opening night fell on the coldest day of the season so far and there were some empty seats. However, things were warming up quickly in the lobby bar, where patrons were socializing before the show with the Koresh brothers, Roni and Alon, artistic director and executive director respectively, who were greeting virtually everyone coming through the door.

Roni looking tres debonair in a sleek fitted topcoat as he made a few remarks before the start of the show. He was sidelined in a special moment ushering in the last audience member coming in from the cold, Suzanne Roberts herself who warmly waved to the everyone.

Below are some capsule reviews and other observations from the first two festival programs.

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 14

Brian Sanders’ JUNK | Selected Works
Things kicked off with some flashy acrobatic dances.  The first vignette including a voiceover intro ala Las Vegas-style introducing Teddy Fatcher and Kelly Trevlyn who performed an exquisite erotica duet set to Tom Jones’ 60’s torch song ‘I who have nothing.’   Sanders’ dance-acrobatics in top form as their bodies just folded into each other in a series of intricate lifts, inversions, and sculpted friezes that would have made Rodin crack the marble.  Fatcher followed with a solo, in just a dance-belt. His first move – a Houdini-esque headstand underwater in an old west wooden tub, followed by the execution of a series of pure Olympic strength moves. The final group dance had something to do with Christmas in Russia with vodka & trash cans. They don’t call it JUNK for nothing.

Megan Flynn Dance Company | Swift Shifts of Identity
Choreographers Megan Flynn & Randall Anthony Smith
Swift Shifts of Identity is an airy duet co-choreographed and danced by Megan Flynn and Randall Anthony Smith.  After a self-conscious start, it was all about couplehood, when one gets perhaps lost in each other’s individuality when “I become We”.  Flynn and Smith building this chemistry through idiosyncratic phrases and their tug of gentle war chemistry creating sparks (and not) but by the end, it seemed like the beginning of a beautiful longer dance, the music was, after all, called ‘Tides of Emotion.’

Matthew Soojian | Altare Memoriae
Choreographer Matthew Soojian
Round and round dancer Shelby Glidden went in a red swivel chair making cryptic hand signals and then moving into various body poses. The movement was more interesting when she spills out onto the floor.  She summons the dance muses and Gabriella Proffitt and Fallon Gannon fly in on wobbly demi-pointe to float around Glidden to pointe the way perhaps. The muses were not heard apparently as the chair spun around one too many times and they start taking turns on it.

Peridance Contemporary Dance Company | Folie & Deux & Dia-Mono-Logues
Choreographers: Adam Barruch & Igal Perry
Folie & Deux choreographed by Adam Barruch, set to Arvo Part’s Fratres unfolds as a dramatic, fully acted duet of a troubled relationship.  Hannah Newman and Colin Heininger are the troubled couples and they instantly establishing the intimacy and emotional weight of the piece, Barruch avoiding clichés with a series of expressive solo segments and dynamic duet unison work.  The couple also performed in the excerpt of Igal Perry’s Dia-Mono-Logues with the rest of the PCDC ensemble, scored to original music by Ofar Bashan. This ensemble work is a showcase of Peridance’s thrilling technical artistry, that is steely and lyrical – with ease, attitude and ballet forward luster.

Power Moves Dance Company | Tribe of Men
Choreographer: Kai Rapelyea
Dancer, Kai Rapelyea is a favorite soloist at the Koresh’s studio showcases.  His quintet for five men features lyrical hip-hop fusion and explosive acrobatic aerials. Rapelyea’s signature sculpted contortions are spellbinding.  Joining Rapelyea are dancers Lucas Mikan, Aaron Mitchell, Dana Orange and Kaleb Ryes. Tribe lives up to Rapelyea’s PMDC aesthetic. It is not just a showcase of individual virtuosity, but dancer camaraderie as the overarching theme.

Kristalyn Gill | Verspertine
Choreographer Gill’s Verspertine, set to the music of Alex Crossan’s Are U There?, is about trust and vulnerability. Gill dances with Andres Peraza and takes a while to unlock. Gill’s concept looked ponderous in the first section, with self-conscious phrasing and anemic pedestrian behavior. Things become more choreographically interesting in the back half, with a more assured choreographic pulse – just in time as it turns out.

Dancefusion | Strega
Choreographer: Jennifer D. Yackel
Jennifer D. Yackel’s  Strega proves to be a powerful solo work as performed by Janet Pilla Mirani. This solo has the feel of a ritualized dance, with precision rhythmic foot patterns and stoic deportment as Mirani casts a piercing eye to the crowd. In a word, hypnotizing. The dance may remain a mystery, but Mirani’s rapturous performance is explanation enough.

Koresh Dance Company | Excerpts
Choreographer:  Roni Koresh
Roni Koresh’s Excerpts is derived from several of Koresh’s two-act works. Heat features Koresh’s traditional Israeli dance communal expressionism with three sections conveying dramatic themes of relationships, rivalries, and existentialism.  Next up was Crash danced by the Koresh men and Wall, a quintet for the Koresh women. Wet Stones was with the full company with that defiant Koresh stare down as the closing motif. KDC starts their season with three new members Paige Devitt, Callie Hocter and Devon Larcher, who joined the company just this summer and are already looking polished, dancing full out in a signature Koresh repertory.

 

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 15

Night two of The Come Together Dance Festival saw everyone under flailing umbrellas and a not singing in the rain- sleet-snow wintry mix. The show starting a little late due to the weather, but no one seemed to mind, as the lobby bar crowd was buzzing again, and the Roberts Theater was near full despite the flash blizzard outside.

Only Roni Koresh could get away with looking good even in a pumpkin color Neru cut polyester suit that was last seen the night Studio 54 was raided by the Feds circa 1978.   Once the audience was all in, Koresh, beaming offered thanks to his staff and festival supporters. He spoke passionately about Come Together’s vital role in continuing to establish Philadelphia as a vibrant and growing dance destination for artists and audiences.  He spoke to the perilous underfunding by corporations and foundations in the current political environment that has become increasingly hostile to supporting the arts in America.  The evening’s program made especially poignant with the appearance of the Paul Taylor 2 Dance Company opening the show.  

Paul Taylor 2 Dance Company | Piazzola Caldera
The dance world lost a giant when Paul Taylor died earlier this year at age of 88. He not only changed postmodern 20th-century dance, but Taylor also continued to work until the end of his life, creating two new ballets a year. Paul Taylor 2 Dance Company danced Taylor’s smoldering Piazzolla Caldera, a tango scene de actione for six dancers that is vintage Taylor. This is not stylized, distilled tango, it is the real thing ala Taylor, reveling in tango classicism and its erotic themes. Taylor laces in matador moves, some paso doble, couples abrazos, and classic tango choreography.  The stage floor was not easy for the women’s tango pumps, and there were a few slips, that led to some scrambled unison work. Without a doubt, these dancers had fine Taylor technique, ensemble esprit and most crucially, witty and steely attack.  Paul Taylor lives through these young dancers.

Alchemy Dance Company | DNA
Choreographer: Amy Harding
Alchemy Dance Company’s quintet of dancers struggled to ignite Amy Harding’s DNA, which has no clear connection to either its theme, music or dancers.  Their earnestness and ensemble esprit were present but this performance struck as being a studio run through. It was strong enough to make you want to see these dancers in ensemble but for this performance, it was centric and not rote, uninspired movement.

JustSole! Street Dance Theater Company | Sea Deep
Choreographer: Kyle Clark
Just Sole! Dance Theater has been a festival favorite and Sea Deep is straightforward ensemble hip-hop with streaming unison precision. In this case, it was a literal floating theme of unpaused still hip-hop waters running deep.  This was a showpiece dance, not as inventive as Clark has presented at past festivals.  Still, the energy had this crowd, rightly, panting for more.

Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers | Dreamscape
Choreographer: Kun-Yang Lin
Dreamscape scored to jarring percussive electronica by Daniel Rhodes, offered choreography that was equally jarring as well. Lin creating movement in a much different key than many of his longer ballets. The ensemble movement is haltingly phrased, foreboding and hypnotic one second and then switches to unexpectedly lyrical solos.  KYL/Dancers dancing with clarity and conviction were never lost in this abstract dream.

Ani/Malayaworks Dance | Greyscale
Choreographer: Annilille Gavino
Gavino offered a dance-theater polemic about the capitalist class structure and sexual oppression within that system. Ambitious themes indeed, Gavino’s dance manifesto is about a trio of women who put up with sexual harassment, where servitude resonates.  Kyan Namazi convincingly plays the menacing, spasmodic CEO, and Chloe Marie Newton, Amanda Edwards, and Gavino are the oppressed who rebel, leaving said boss writhing in his own vileness.  A narrative full of inventive choreography, from abstract, stuttered phrasing to effective transitions that drive the story.

Nika Antuanette’s Savage Queen
Antuanette depicts the infamous Red Queen from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  Costumed in a lace bustier with flowing red satin gathered gown with black tulle, she regally sweeps over the stage. The original score by Jeremy Cone includes Wonderland lines voiceover from the book including “Off with his head!” and “My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place.”   Antuanette’s Savage Queen’s dance is as absurd as ever and her movement seeks to explore her psychological turmoil, such as it is for a fantasy character – Don’t go ask Alice!

The Rock School for Dance Education | Piazzola Trio; Medora Variation; Incanto
Astor Piazzola’s music was back and ignited brothers Angel, Cesar and Marco Ramirez in Telmo Moreira’s Piazzola Trio.  The brother danseurs from Cuba, pumping out grand pirouettes, and pyrotechnical ballet aerials with power and flair. Even with a few scrambled phrase exits, these men fly.  Mine Kusano followed with a pristine ballerina solo, choreographed by Marius Petipa. Her technical artistry was luminous.  The Rock School’s resident choreographer, Justin Allen’s Incanto for 15 dancers was highlighted by Allen’s contemporary classicism for these advanced students, giving them the tools they will need navigating 21-century ballet careers. This was a most impressive showcase on many levels.

Sharp Dance Company |Excerpts of “Puzzle”
Choreographed by Diane Sharp-Nachsin and Joe Cotler
Presented were two excerpts from Puzzles, for six dancers, in different choreographic styles by Sharp Nachsin and Cotler (longtime dancer with Koresh Dance).  Some mystical ensemble configurations gave way to street, club and free dance expression. No missing piece in this dance puzzle, the excerpts makes one want to see the whole thing.

Koresh Dance Company
In contrast to the previous night, Koresh presented literally lighter fare with excerpts from his long-form ballet Inner Sun.  In the ensemble sections were Ghost Particles and Sun Sugar, joyous Meditteranean folkloric fusion so expressive of individual and universal humanitarianism. The highlight though was the sumptuous intimacy of Majestic a duet about soul mates, danced by the always sublime partners Melissa Rector and Micah Geyer.

Stay tuned for additional coverage of the Festival coming soon!

 

 

 

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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