Although the weekend swept a blustering snowstorm and below-freezing temperatures to the city of Philadelphia, things were heating up at Koresh Dance. On Sunday, January 30, the acclaimed company hosted their quarterly Artist Showcase in their newly renovated studio theater space. This showcase, supported by established Philadelphia choreographers, introduced out-of-town, emerging artists and focused on celebrating young student dancers.
Emily Meola presented two short pieces. The first, “Group Therapy,” featured four dancers clad in short summer dresses with cotton skirts and puffed sleeves. This aesthetic choice reminded me of Little House on the Prairie and Anne of Green Gables. The choreography could most accurately be described as lyrical, as the movement directly mimicked the lyrics of the song, “Hope is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have,” by Lana del Rey. Interspersed with high kicks, dramatic facial expressions, isolations, and even the occasional (if somewhat randomly placed) aerial flip, the choreography seemed to express the difficulties of womanhood, drawing parallels to today’s society. Meola’s second piece was a solo, performed by Taylor Shaffer, entitled “Midsommar.” The title immediately draws to mind the horror film, Midsommar, directed by Ari Aster. True to its title, the piece followed the typical creepy contemporary dance formula seen on popular TV series, such as “So You Think You Can Dance.” The choreography featured challenging technical feats (i.e., multiple pirouettes, acrobatics, and contortion) coupled with the usual twitches and affrighted facial expressions intended to strike fear into the audience’s hearts.
Catherine Messina performed a self-choreographed solo, “flesh memories.” Messina exhibited excellent control and technique, moving seamlessly through sustained balances, specific isolations, and explosive rolls to the floor. The choreographic pathways were almost invariably circular, as Messina traced circles through the air with her arms, legs, and pirouettes. She swiveled her hips and rotated her wrists as she explored the surfaces of the space. The piece ended dramatically, with two fists clasped and in sudden darkness.
The circular theme continued in the following piece, “at least for now,” choreographed and performed by Sara Foucher and Jamison Curcio. The work began with sumptuous fluidity in a center spotlight. The dancers traced long circles with arms and legs and moved around each other, like cats meeting each other for the first time. Intense eye contact, proximity, repeated phrases, and hand gestures created an electric discourse and clear relationship between the two dancers. Varying effort qualities gave the impression of a heated discussion, and the final embrace suggested a peaceful reconciliation.
Amber Hongsermeier presented a self-choreographed solo entitled “Obscura.” Dressed in blue and grey, she entered the space in striking, silhouetted lighting and executed clean and familiar jazz techniques. Pirouettes, high kicks, arches, and even a tried-and-true pas de bourrée allowed the artist to express a return to home after a long, pandemic-induced hiatus.
The next piece, “METALLIC REVERB,” choreographed by Eli Alfau, was one of the most energetic pieces in the showcase. A cast of ten dancers claimed the space, sporting very shiny pants. The choreography oscillated between virtuosic pirouettes, jumps, and tilts that showcased the dancers’ superb training and more colloquial movements that one would do in a club with friends. The dancers worked in duos and trios, and this orchestrated chaos drew the eye all over the stage. The dichotomous choreography and creative transitions between phrases suggest that Alfau questioned what should be considered “high art.”
Meg Allison choreographed a duet, “Great God Mars,” for herself and Mia Allison. I noticed that the choreography involved similar variations of the same phrase—one seated and one standing. The dancers seemed to react to each other’s gestures as if they controlled each other and simultaneously resisted said control. The piece progressed to a climax, during which the dancers moved through acrobatic floor work and sudden, high kicks to the sound of a storm raging. The choreography ended in a sudden drop to the floor. Was it a death? Did the fight end? Admittedly, I was unsure.
Grace Dance Theater 2 presented “Ancestral Power,” choreographed by Kareem B. Goodwin. This piece featured a cast of eleven well-trained, young dancers. The piece’s energy remained consistently high as the choreography moved through four distinct styles: contemporary ballet, classical modern, hip hop, and even some traditional West African. The variety of genres showcased the dancers’ versatility and the choreographer’s wealth of knowledge. The dancers finished in a powerful stance, legs wide and clenched fist held aloft, the easily recognizable Black Lives Matter symbol.
Jim Bunting presented a brief solo performed by Aubrey Kazimi. “Siege” lived up to its name, as the choreography laid siege to the audience’s focus. The choreography was fascinatingly unsettling, as Kazimi began to move in a deep crouch while perched on the balls of her feet. Immediately, one of literature’s creepiest characters, Gollum, sprang to mind. Kazimi then transitioned to sweeping walks, clean balances, and slow turns. Occasionally, she stopped to move in jerking isolations, like a marionette trying to break free from its strings. Toward the end of the piece, Kazimi stalked in a circle, pointing her finger at the floor in a manner reminiscent of the well-known “mad scene” from the ballet, Giselle. I was left wondering what terrible thoughts had taken over the character’s mind.
As is customary for a Koresh Artist Showcase Series, the excellent Koresh Youth Ensemble finished the show with “Let Go,” choreographed by the incomparable Melissa Rector. Even had I not glanced at the program, I would have easily guessed the choreographer. Melissa Rector has cultivated a style all her own over her years as Assistant Director of Koresh Dance. The dancers powerfully stalked in a circular formation, swept their arms overhead, kicked their legs in a fanning motion, and suddenly contracted their cores as if punched. Strong breath cues and stomps punctuated the piece. It was an excellent way to end a collection of exciting dance works.