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There were lots of hits and hardly any misses at Wednesday's Come Together Festival opener at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre — plus there were a number of surprises. Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers's "Mandala Project" was listed first on the program ahead of Brian Sanders’ JUNK, which was presenting a ground floor version of his Fringe Festival hit of a few years back, "Dancing Dead." I say ground floor because the theater didn’t allow for the kind of rigging the full aerial version required, at least not in this kind of quick-change festival.
So there was the first surprise, which was necessitated by scenery. JUNK went first and Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers second, confusing a packed audience that included some dance tyros who, not knowing either company, didn’t know they were watching "Dancing Dead" instead of "Mandala Project." There were also an annoying few who didn’t know they should keep their cell phones off during a show. That wouldn’t have been a problem if only in his prosecco opening-night glow, Roni Koresh hadn’t forgotten to mention the program change and give the cell phone warning in his curtain talk. Some figured the program change out pretty quickly, but you could hear the rustle of paper throughout the theater as people checked to see what they were seeing.
The cell phone thing was a little harder to quash. When one audience member was asked a second time to shut off her device, she said “Get away from me.” Those nearby were glad we weren’t on a plane with her.
She nearly ruined the really big surprise of the concert: Chisena Danza’s "Breathe." The company is Melissa Chisena’s, and she soloed to Katonya Mosley’s barely audible breathing score composed with Jonathan Cannon. As Mosley expelled sweetly measured breaths into her microphone, they eddied into susurruses that Chisena seemed to be floating through. The underwater effect morphed into desert mirage and back again as Peter Jakubowski’s lighting washed over Chisena’s undulations and shifted along with the mood. While not covering much floor space, Chisena managed to cover a host of delicately exposited emotions, at least as she elicited them from the audience. She might shift her weight on one extended, flexed foot, one arm trailing behind. Or turn to us so we might see the subtle ripples of her well-muscled back. We were all left spellbound.
Exquisite and intricate
Kun-Yang Lin’s dancers also created that kind of mystery, spirituality, and physical beauty in the "Mandala Project." The exquisite and intricate training they undergo with Lin rewards his dancers by turning each of them into a fully-realized artist in his or her own right. You don’t feel you are watching someone’s choreography, with dancers just dancing the steps they are given — you feel you are watching artists expressing their deepest selves, sharing with you intimacies and private thoughts and personal longings.
They come out onstage en masse, wrapped in glistening folds of fabric, slowly rolling onto the stage like a golden boulder about to pick up speed as it reaches a slope. Eventually, the fabric begins to unravel, revealing the dancers beneath as individuals emerge from what was one. They shed their cocoons and dance in Heidi Barr’s gorgeous scarlet cropped pants. Jessica Warchal-King appears as a goddess towering over the others. But each begins his or her own trajectory. Vuthy Ou brings in the masculinity, Evalina Carbonell the delicate femininity, while Eiren Shuman exudes the hypnotic focus of a high priest. Rachel Hart and Brandi Ou complete the grouping. But it was young Liu Mo who took everyone’s breath here, with his final leap way above the now knotted-together group to become one with them again.
All the while, Jakubowski’s thrilling lighting — a long single slant above the opening mass, a clock they all turn on near the end — almost became another entity on the stage. But, strong as it was, it never intruded, just supported the dance poetically. It takes some patience to watch Lin’s Zen-influenced movement, but if you’ve got it, it leaves you feeling wholesome and whole.
Meaning and movement
Of course, it was a delight to watch Sanders as the old gravedigger waltzing with a skeleton in "Dancing Dead" and to hear the amusing way he uses old '80s pop songs. The duet danced to John Denver’s "Annie’s Song" overlaid with creepily creaking sounds of long-dead bones, is pricelessly funny yet could make you weep for its bittersweet use here. That’s certainly one of Sanders’s gifts: His work is not merely gimmicks and enthralling, daring tricks. He puts real meaning and feeling into all his work.
Koresh Dance Company showcased its excellent jet-propelled dancers in a series that moved from full company to duet to quartet and back to larger grouping, all culled from earlier works and themed with humor. Asya Zlatina and Jessica Daley plucked the “G” out of "Air on a String." Melissa Rector fell all over Joe Cotler, wagging her behind throughout "Kiss." And Fang-Ju Chou Gant and Krista Montrone made this almost an evening of triumph for ladies only in "3D" — until Micah Geyer, Kevan Sullivan, and Robert Tyler joined Cotler for a masculine rumble in "Round the Block."
Heidi Cruz-Austin’s DanceSpora presented "Ego in Flux." On this program of strong, mostly innovative works, Stuart Duncan’s music sounded and the choreography looked like much we’ve seen before. Even though I had previously seen all the other works except for Chisena’s, they were danced with such verve and professionalism they looked new again to me. You know you’re seeing art when it has that kind of staying power.
What, When, Where
Come Together Dance Festival, July 23-27, 2014 at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 South Broad Street, Philadelphia. 215-985-0420 or http://philadelphiatheatrecompany.org/on-stage/inresidence/.
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