COME TOGETHER FESTIVAL: Dance review, part 2

Republished by kind permission from The Dance Journal

Photo by Jaqlin Medlock

Photo by Jaqlin Medlock

Having to follow two powerhouse ensemble performances couldn’t have been easy for dancers Brian Cordova and Sophia Malin in choreographer Evalina Wally Carbonell duet ‘Analemma’ set to music by Lucky Dragon. It first looks like a star-crossed lovers circling around each other tentatively, embracing, misreading each others’ signals and eventually partnering. But, Carbonell noted at an audience talkback that the dancers symbolize celestial bodies. The piece was reading a bit cold in the first half, but as soon as Carbonell had them physically connect choreographically, they had had gravitational pull and understated charm.

Koresh Dance Company finished program 2 with excerpts from ‘Promises I Never Meant To Keep’ which opens with five women in a serene island tableaux swaying to Louis Armstrong singing ‘Wonderful World’ as the red lights fade and the Koresh Men dance 8th Ave. a Hasidic celebration of male camaraderie, with expressions of manhood, if not doses of machismo. The men and women come together for the final two sections, as they switch partners, Mazurka style that segues into propulsive Koresh configurations.

July 25 (prog. 4)

The Rock School Dancers returned to the festival and presented showpiece solos by Marius Petipa including Swan Lake, La Corsaire and works by the school’s resident choreographer Justin Allen. Dancers Taylor Ciampi, Jullian Price, Christian Gutierrez and Mackenzie Brown, each shaking off some nerves and seizing the classical moment. Wonderful esprit in the contemporary group piece ‘Tempestuous’ by Allen for eleven dancers, the men in red tights the women in red tulle. Allen’s easy access neo-classic choreography tapping the dancers’ strengths of line and pacing, if not complete ensemble cohesion.

At the other end of the dance spectrum, there is Randy James’ troupe 10 Hair Legs, reduced to just six legs for choreographer Cleo Mack’s comic romp ‘Bath Tub Trio’ set to music by Beethoven. The piece was originally choreographed for women, but James convinced her that it would be cool for men too. The men cluster in a small tub and rub each others backs in sculptural twinings. Homoeroticism floats around with Beethoven’s crescendos as they move out of the tub and moves them around acrobatically. Mack throws in lifts and splits, but when the dancer’s constant leering at the audience veers into Chippendale territory. But this trio makes the thinness of this piece work and there’s the rub, as the audience apparently thought it was clean enough.

Dancer Melissa Rector who is resident choreographer for Koresh Youth Ensemble created a duet for Alexis Guthrie ‘Quiet Night Tomorrow’ a woman seems anguished and near distraught and her crisis is interrupted by someone who appears but doesn’t want to intrude. Rector has been expanding her choreographic voice and this looked like the prologue, perhaps connected to the trio she made for closing night called ‘For/word’ which had the same atmosphere.

Ralph Xavier’s ‘Point of Interest’ followed and PhilaDANCO’s’ Latched’ which was tighter in this performance. KY L/Dancers also reprised ‘Home, 9th St’ with a new section added. The setting is the dancers working in the studio, trying out phrases and dance characters manipulating each other like they were puppets. Lin’s humorous choreography laced with the fluency of the classicism in the repeated segment and adding to the work’s exploratory aura.

The evening ended with artistic directors Joan Myers Brown, Randy James, Kun-Yang Lin, Raphael Xavier and Melissa Rector joining Roni Koresh onstage to answer audience questions. And after getting the ‘what comes first’ music-choreography question out of the way, they each focused on what the on their individual creative processes and company aesthetics.

In turn, the directors were very candid about the commitment and struggles in today’s economy for independent companies with limited funds. Roni Koresh passionately expressing his commitment to dancers and the sacrifices of dance artists make to perform. “What the audience sees is so much a part of real life for them and not just a performance. I hate the word performance. That is real life on stage and it is different for them every night.”

An audience member weighed in with a statement about the importance of this festival in that it was reflecting the community. “I’ve been to a lot of festivals on the Ave. of the Arts, but the diversity on this stage has for the first time… made this a real festival in Philly.”

Philadanco director Joan Myers Brown summed it up by citing the rich diversity of the festival’s programming “I have to say, this festival looks like America.”

July 26 festival finale

The Festival’s closing night performance was a sell-out and executive-director Alon Koresh said the festival was exceeding expectations this year. Koreshe said that even with over 30 companies taxing all their resources this year, it couldn’t have been more organized and going forward, festival expansion and new goals for next year are already being strategized.

JUNK swinging their country partners in ‘American Standard’ kicking things off again, followed, in jarring contrast by choreographer Kat Sullivan’s ‘Reign’ a brief duet. The spot come up on Sullivan and Meredith Stapleton, positioned in samurai wrestler squats, flowing red and brown silks billowing and heads hidden black lace face gloves. The dancers side by side dancing unison phrases, while a piano string dirge by composer Michael Wall, lurches in the background. Sullivan’s movement visuals intrigue, even as they get more cryptic and just when you think there might be a clue to the meaning, the lights go out.

Kareen B. Goodwin and Dancers’ ‘Against the Hands of Time’ for an ensemble of eight, starts with choreography by Goodwin begins with a standard modernist solo that doesn’t go anywhere until the other dancers join in and the choreographic light goes on. Standard, but unfussy mixed ballet-contemporary idioms laced with jumps and pirouette runs. Even with some sloppy transitional phrasing, Goodwin’s dancers have both attack and ensemble pulse.

Project Moshen ‘The Hidden Truth’ choreographed by Kelli Moshen’s driving ensemble rhythmics that too often shifts into regimented overdrive. Moshen’s more measured voice, seen in the transitional phrases, a few airy leaps and turns, was scuttled by unrelenting crowded choreography that keeps hammering away in the same key. The dancers seem to be in some sort of pitched battle, alternating with come-hither go-go dancer moves and frequent lethal stare-downs with the audience. Moshen doesn’t give her troupe, or us, enough room to breathe and dancing harder is not necessarily dancing better. But, what I didn’t connect to this audience made it clear that they certainly did, so this reviewer’s opinion has been clearly drowned out already.

Ballet Inc. performed choreographer Aaron Atkins’ Jamais Ton’ a duet for dancers Edgar L. Peterson and Chloe Slade. The dancers are in black unitard couture, with Slade in black point shoes in an intimate duet set to Arvo Part chamber music with a man whispering in French over it. The dancers’ beautiful line, sumptuous phrasing and seamless lift patterns showing their superb lyrical technique, palpable chemistry. Slade possesses a diamond point arabesque and Peterson lithe and muscular, towering over Slade, until she puts her hand on his shoulder and he descends before her as the light goes down. The audience exploded. Part deux set to penetrating music by Erik Satie, Atkins choreography in another distinct choreographic key and just as eloquence on the dancers.

Choreographer Katrina Atkin’s ‘Time is Fleeting-Time is Eternal’ followed with Beethoven’s 2nd movement (Allegretto) from his 7th symphony thunders in as a flash of light reveals a cluster of dancers in colorful clothes are frozen center stage. Then, darkness as the epic majesty of Beethoven bathes the audience. When the light comes back up, the dancers move out of formation in moving in uber-slo motion and from there, Atkin’s potent mosaic of pedestrian movement threaded with choreographic formalism. The various skills of the dancers are part of it, liberated dance. Atkins picks up the 7th’s orchestral structures almost casually- a chamber string counterpoint is picked up by three dancers upstage, for instance, as the rest of the troupe scrambles in dance fragments that build a resonating statement.

The festival finale was all Koresh Dance Company starting with ‘Change’ created for Fang-Ju Chou, Keven Sullivan and Asya Zlatina, performing her final evening with Koresh Dance. Fittingly Edith Piaf singing La Vie En Rose followed, with the ensemble backs to the audience, do their own little private dance to that iconic song. Then the simmering military drums of Ravel command as the dancers ignite Koresh’s signature festival piece ‘Bolero’, which is luminous as ever and by now, even epic. The audience was on their feet at the end and the applause wasn’t subsiding until Roni came on and presented Asya with goodbye flowers and kisses as they embraced. The finale to the finale was held in the lobby of Sofitel Hotel, where the performers and audience members came together for a final festival toast.

Impressive enough that The Koresh team covered so much ground establishing the breadth and professional foundation for a full festival in three year. The Koresh team making the most of creating a platform of performance support for independent companies and this time, at its most expansive and perhaps sealing the festival’s growing integrity on the local, national and even international dance landscape.

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About the author

Lewis Whittington for The Dance Journal

Lewis Whittington’s articles on the performing arts have appeared in several print and online publications including The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Advocate, Dance Magazine, American Theatre Magazine, Huffington Post, Playbill and Stage Directions.