Koresh’s Come Together Dance Festival (part duex)

by Lewis J Whittington for The Dance Journal | photo credit Julienne Harris

The Suzanne Roberts Theater was packed with dance fans for the final two nights of the Koresh Dance Company’s Come Together Festival, Nov. 23-24. Before each of the two concert evenings, Artistic Director, Roni Koresh credited his brother Alon, the company’s Executive Director, for conceiving the festival and for its growth since they launched the festival in 2013 as a platform for Philadelphia dance companies.

This year’s festival presented 44 companies, with dozens more wanting to be in the performance line-up, many from outside the Philadelphia area. In comments in the theater lobby before the Saturday night concert, Alon added, “hopefully we can bring in companies from around the country and eventually make the festival an international dance destination,” while still maintaining it as a showcase for Philadelphia-based companies. But he also stressed that it all comes down to the inescapable reality of getting more funding.

The participating companies, as Roni reminds the audiences before each performance, perform “pro bono” and going forward he would like to have the budget to change that. For now, the festival provides professional photography and video recordings of the performances, and the lighting designs of one of the best in the business, Peter Jakubowski, who flies in from Las Vegas for the festival. In just one week, he works with each company to achieve the optimal lighting effects for their specific work in this theater.

Here are some capsule reviews of the final festival nights…

Festival Night Four featured many of Philadelphia’s most prominent dance companies that included Philadanco and RennieHarris PureMovement. They shared the bill with repeat performances from the first two festival nights- Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers (‘The Door’), Koresh Dance Company (‘The Muse), and Pennsylvania Ballet (‘A Trace of Inevitability’) all lengthier pieces that have been previously reviewed in part 1 of this series.

Philadanco presented choreographer Christopher Huggins When Dawn Comes (excerpt). A duet performed by Joe Gonzales and Mikaela Fenton is a scenario of a couple in a much too stormy relationship for comfort. Mikaela hurls herself at Gonzales and his efforts to rebuff her fail. The physicality is mutual as Fenton lifts Gonzales in a long and arresting moment which drew applause. Still, this is an emotionally one-sided relationship and when he pushes her one too many times, she snaps back with an attitude that things are going be different from now on. Huggins’ relationship drama is a condensed sampling of Philadanco’s precision balletic athleticism.

Ballet Inc. is a New York-based company with choreography by Aaron Atkins whose mission is to break down barriers of industry “normative dancer limitations” of ethnicity, body type, and gender. Atkins choreographs in classical vocabulary to Bach.  Atkins and partner Chloe Slade struggled on some of the more demanding ballet combinations, but what they brought in conviction made up for any wayward technical moments.

Rennie Harris PureMovement performed a two-act narrative starting with a vintage, straightforward, hip-hop matrix footwork line with a supple flow followed by razor-sharp unison for six dancers and a virtuoso solo by Joshua Culbreath. Then, Harris proceeds in top form with topical storytelling with ’A Day in a Life, a scene de action about two men caught up in a street fight and danced by Phillip Cuttino and Kai Rapelyea. Strong storytelling has Rapelyea arrested with his arms bound behind, as his solo ‘Black Promises’, depicts a series of defiant and anguished dance contortions that are a manifesto against systemic police violence against black men.

The final night of the festival was the concert that was exemplary of the range of techniques, subjects, narrative, abstract, and concrete aesthetics alive in Philadelphia’s dance community. Here are some memorable moments.

Koresh Assistant Director/dancer-choreographer Melissa Rector’s ’Remnant’ opened the concert. Rector choreographing more lyrically in the ensemble sections than in many of her ballets, but there was also much dynamic drive for the cast of nine.

Megan Flynn Dance Company’s ‘All Dreams Collapsed in One Second’ co-choreographed by Flynn and her dance partner Randall Anthony Smith, is movement inspired by that moment before one wakes up. Set to chromatic jazz music piano by Jared Balogh. Their bodies animate within the syncopation of the music and move in most delightful idiosyncratic ways. This was one of the highlight duets of the whole festival. Their musicality and partner energy were simply radiant.

Heather Dutton and Abigail Linnemeyer’s duet ‘A Common Sense’ celebrated a passion for dance, partnering as they danced in unison with bodies interlocking, conveying expressions of the camaraderie and the intimacy of physical and emotional partnering.

Britt Fishel and Artists’ excerpt from ‘Distaff’ is a sardonic expose about the continued objectification of women in culture and on the dance stage. Three women in black fetish bikinis and a bare-chested male engage in lifts, lunges, and acrobatic dance with an aggressive edge that makes you want to see the entire work.

Choreographer Jim Bunting’s narrative concept for the five dancers inSAND’ opens with Courtney Conigatti in a pink tulle. With much anguish, she mime’s writing on sand, then symbolically erases her troubles to dance on.  Then, Gregory Scott, in blue trousers, flies onstage, with a frantic and ultimately meditative solo. Bunting’s cultural idioms and characters in SAND is choreographically inventive throughout this work.

SHARP Dance Company – Diane Sharp’sBlind Faith (Part 3’) with dancers Linnea Calzada-Charma, Sandra Davis and Kate Lombardi, emerge from portals in a majestic blood red and black dress by Philadelphia designer Brian Strachan.   They sculpt their bodies in them, beautifully interlocking limbs and heads.  Sharp’s minimalist choreography in tandem with sculptural lighting by Jakubowski, detailed the isometric movements of the dancer’s back muscles and the sinewy shapes of their interlock limbs, which is spellbinding.

Sonia Dawkins | SD Prism Dance Theatre ‘s piece ‘SOAPBOX’ featured five dancers each taking center stage spreading community spirit and love signs, a dance message that bears repeating in our confrontational times.

Yu.S. Artistry’s Flakiness in the City’ expressed similar themes in our era of miscommunication. A whimsical excursion of different dance styles and body language as a way of communication, or not.

Mignolo Dance’sParadox in Translation’ using voice-over poetry about a troubled relationship and gestural phrasing, posed within the rhythms of the words.

In contrast to those social themes, after the intermission, REACH Dance Company presented soloist Stephen Myers performing choreographer Maria Konrad’s classical ballet piece ‘Is Anybody Out There?’  Myers jetes, turns and tours’ l air at a thrilling pace.  A virtuoso danseur performance for the balletomanes in the audience, which at this level, never looks outdated.

ARTIST HOUSE/Asya Zlatina + Dancers – Brief scenes from choreographer Asya Zlatina ‘Maybe Even Higher” dedicated to the artists of the Shoah. Zlatina’s storytelling and character dance documents life and dance rituals of Jewish ancestors. The whimsical dances depict bonds of friendship, family and cultural traditions.

Koresh Dance Company closed the festival with the finale of Roni Koresh’s new work ‘The Muse’ and the ballet finale titled ‘Irish’ with its stunning central duet danced by Paige Devitt and Devon Larcher.

Dancers and fans were buzzing about the performances in the theater lobby, before heading off to 20 Manning Restaurant (just half a block away from Koresh studios) to kick-back after the five-festival nights for a few well-earned, celebratory festival toasts.

Reviews of the first two nights of the festival may be found here.

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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