6th Come Together Dance Festival Convenes

by Lewis J Whittington for The Dance Journal
photo credit Stephanie Ramones, Contigo Photos + Films

Koresh Dance Company opened it’s 6th annual Come Together Dance Festival on November 20th at the Suzanne Roberts Theater showcasing the range of dance in the Philadelphia area with over 40 companies participating. The festival is curated by Roni Koresh, artistic director of Koresh Dance Company and his brother Alon, the company’s executive director. This year the festival featured many of Philadelphia’s high profile companies – Pennsylvania Ballet, Philadanco, KYL/Dancers, and Brian Sanders JUNK.  Just as significant was a wide swath of representation from smaller companies and independent dancer-choreographers in a wide array of dance genres. Roni Koresh made a few brief comments before the curtain went up, most significantly citing the fact that the companies and dancers were performing without pay to be part of the festival

Here are some highlights of the first two nights of the festival…

The concert kicked off with Roni Koresh’s newest work The Muse scored to original music by John Levis. The Koresh men took to the stage with bravura leaps and attitude, followed by a dramatic duet by frequent partners Melissa Rector and Micah Geyer, and finishing with the full company onstage in variations of Koresh signature styles.

With four new members recently joining Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers, it could have been a risk to perform choreographer Lin’s The Faith Project/The Door scored to a gripping soundscape by Cory Neale. Some of the intricate choreography presented was based on ritual from spiritual dances of antiquity. Outstanding soloists in this piece included Wangbo Zhu with explosive aerials and Annielillie Gavino, whose transcendent movements and gaze were mesmerizing. The performance of The Door was so much more than the individual steps, and during the Sufi dervish dancer variations the energy, and artistry spoke universal volumes.

Next, came a movement study by dancer-choreographers Alisa Iacovelli and Casey Van Newenhizen titled Navigation with themes about human connection. However. the minimalist choreography never reached beyond the clichéd depictions.

White Chocolate Mocha performed by dancers Kendall Niblett and Olivia Link (choreographed by Niblett and Georgia Sheridan) was a steamy jazz duet set to Peggy Lee’s sultriest version of the torch song Black Coffee but then morphs to a goofy gurgling remake by Tincup with the dancers responding in kind.

After a pause, the curtain came back up on the thirteen dancers of The Hood Lockers with Knights by night!  Group choreography by Marcus Tucker, Andrew Ramsey, Joshua Polk, and Richard Evans Jr. offered an homage to the first professional street dance group, The Lockers in the hip-hop frieze line. When the 70’s disco spin on Beethoven’s 5th symphony blasts in, they blast off with old school hip-hop and vintage street moves. Then, the music switches to the reboot James Brown’s I Feel Good as the Knights re-fuel with vintage break moves, popping and locking, glides and flips, robotics, break, and proto-waves that featured the tightest footwork and transitional phrasing. It just kept heating up with these dancers burning the floor till it was tearing the house down.

Dancer-Choreographer Evalina “Wally” Carbonell’s giddy choreography for Sugar Sting Suite captivated from start to finish. Carbonell, Weiwei Ma and Sophie Malin, all moonlighting from KYL/D dance, made for a warm, witty and most animated trio set to equally delightful music by Clippped Gongs, Lucky Dragons, Wanderbirds and Time Division.

Choreographer Emily Pietruszka dancing her own solo, I didn’t say those things for nothing… , strikes a raw dance nerve, executing fragments of movement before whirling down to the floor for some limb tangles that inspire poetry about lost love and something about an invisible space ship. One could get lost too, but Pietruszka saves us just in time. Pietruszka lets the music play and tosses off two minutes of much needed calming hip-hop.

Melitta Parzyszek’s Hanging the Acts on the Clothing Racks was a solo danced by Olivia Barner, based on Laban Movement analysis of human behavior in different situations. The soundtrack has broadcast static, crying, an ominous clock sound and a woman’s bloodcurdling screams.  Barner in pin-stripe tights does various splits on the floor before she is aloft with some actual dance. As with the previous piece, she has the courage of her dance convictions, but the static (and the screams) eventual take over.

Three excerpts from Koresh’s Here and Now closed the program. The Call to Prayer scenes offers classic themes by choreographer Roni Koresh, full of Israeli radiant folkloric and Hassidic communal dance.  A central solo danced by Micah Geyer is the prologue as he kneels in prayer and the quiet reserve, It is one of the most eloquent and stirring passages Koresh has created.


Night 2 of the festival was full of pieces about dance relationships, drama, and comedy. It was truly a showcase the Come Together Festival mission to feature the deep field of different dance genres, artists and disciplines in Philadelphia.  The program was anchored by two long-form works form the Koresh Dance Company and Pennsylvania Ballet.

Opening the program was a stellar dance-theater piece by choreographer Dara J. Meredith titled, Yesterday…Today…Tomorrow. It is one of the “untold stories” that Meredith highlights in a docu-dance dramatization of apartheid on the South African coast, perpetrated by Dutch in 1620.  The cast of fifteen was split with half depicting The Africans and the others in military garb as The Dutch. Scored to jazz master Hugh Masekela’s Stimela, voiceover narration by the cast depicted the freedom fighters. Meredith masterfully weaves Africanist choreography with a ritualized expression of resistance, past, and present.

In contrast, Alchemy Dance Company danced Intersect by choreographer Amy Harding.  A pleasant enough movement meditation, but the rote movement phrases and underpowered ensemble energy didn’t go anywhere.

Dancer-choreographer Oreet Jehassi Schwartz danced a contemporary Bellydance/fusion to tell the story of a woman working through the aftermath of a breakup. The seductive movement was full of bitter irony.

Wyckoff Collective trio Paul Giarratano, Maddle Hanson, and Anca Putin danced choreographer Thuy Wychkoff’s Point to music called Point and Completely Gone by Empty.  Thuy’s manic industrial dance moves were true to the music and also tons of fun.

Tina Croll + Company’s Balkan Bacchanal danced by a cast of six women was a montage of lyrical and rhythmic ensemble dances performed to traditional music from Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Romania. It was performed with joyous technical artistry.

A Trace of Inevitability by Chinese choreographer Yin Yue, offered the first revival of a strong ballet fusionist work that was a bit of a hit earlier this month in Pennsylvania Ballet’s World Premieres program. Danced this time on a smaller stage, in a more intimate theater, gives a closer look at Yin Yue’s mixed discipline techniques and the refinement of the first performance, which proved just as impressive the second time around.

Just Sole! Street Dance Theater Company opened the second half of the evening in a dance theater comedy about couples set to the funk number Wastin My Time by Zakes Bantwinis.  All the couples are fighting and one-two timin’ man, once discovered, is left to his own lonesome self as the women formerly in his life take charge. Danita and Kyle Clark, Just Sole’s married directors have their dance duel turn, and let’s just say that ‘Queen Danita’ gets the last laugh even though Kyle choreographed the piece. Of course, in between these flashdance duets, we are equally impressed with the companies’ quicksilver precision unison and sparkling esprit de corps

Ash & Elm Dance Co. presented Ekam Dve, a solo choreographed by Ashley McCullough and Amber Gardner and set to Dreamland by Valgeir Sigurosson.  Ashley McCullough performs an adagio acrobatic dance with contortions that keep evolving from a supine position to torso inversions and precariously held strength moves. Then Sigurosson finishes the solo with equally muscled, and eloquent ballet moves.

Pas de Deux de la Fin de L’amour is choreographer Matthew Soojian’s ‘queer’ take on Giselle in a pas de deux danced by Alisa Iocavelli and Sophie Malin, who play the modern couple in the midst of a passionate breakup.  The angst fades away when they actually start dancing the story that Soojian laces with expressive arabesque and port de bra.

More from The Muse by Koresh finished the concert along with Irish segments for the full company. The women are in flowy satin skirts and the men in everyday work clothes. Koresh choreographs Irish step dancing, springy flings, and jigs in contrast to other parts of The Muse which feature Koresh’s more high-octane choreography.  Still, there is a lot of dance-drama in Irish and some that struck as choreographically not fully formed. The audience apparently disagreed with this observation, giving it a lustily extended applause.

~Stay tuned for more coverage of the final two nights of the festival~

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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