Koresh’s sixth annual Come Together Dance Festival featured more than 35 dance companies and a different lineup every night performed by artists from greater Philadelphia and beyond. The November 23 show included Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers (KYL/D), Pennsylvania Ballet, PHILADANCO, and Rennie Harris Puremovement, as well as New York-based Ballet Inc. (Koresh Dance Company performed each day.) This grab-bag approach to programming offers unique opportunities to see terrific dancing in a range of styles every night. The downside, however, is a series of lineups that do not quite cohere.
Faith in dance
KYL/D kicked things off with an excerpt from Faith Project/The Door, an abstract dance about belief and religious practice. I saw the work in its entirety when Faith Project/The Door premiered in spring 2018, and this performance underscored its significance and beauty. The dance includes recognizable gestures and images of faith and spirituality which span a range of cultures and traditions. One dancer portrayed a Jesus-like figure to whom others were drawn. Later, a group lifted a female dancer and bore her aloft in a somber procession evoking crucifixion.
The Faith excerpt concluded with a stage full of spinning dancers who suggested Sufi dervishes before their whirling slowed and they brought their hands together in prayer. Cory Neale’s sound design added layers to the images with ringing temple bells and a vocal chant that repeated “they’re gonna know Him” in tones and speeds that stripped away the meaning of the words until only sounds remained. It was the perfect accompaniment to a dance capturing the human experience of seeking, desiring, and touching the ineffable divine.
Grace and inevitability
The next piece, an excerpt from When Dawn Comes, addressed grace of a different sort. PHILADANCO dancers Mikaela Fenton and Joe Gonzalez performed a duet choreographed by Christopher L. Huggins about a woman’s attempt to search gracefully for love, passion, and commitment. Both Fenton and Gonzalez showed incredible strength and grace in their dancing as well as their characters, lovers fighting to get what they want from the other. Sometimes that was the upper hand: after taking a flying leap into her partner’s arms, Fenton lifted Gonzalez—a reversal of gender roles in dance so novel it drew cheers—then pretended to drop him and step on him. The final image underscored the elegant endurance of Fenton’s character when, after her partner abandons her, she mimed dusting herself off before exiting, head high, with the regal air of a queen.
A Trace of Inevitability, performed by dancers from Pennsylvania Ballet, took things in another direction. Commissioned for choreographer Yin Yue, the dance premiered earlier this month. It is abstract contemporary ballet, like Faith Project/The Door, but unlike KYL/D’s dance, A Trace of Inevitability is abstract in theme. At first, it I was not sure what to make of it: Michel Banabila’s electronic score and Christine Darch’s jumpsuitlike costumes seemed strange partners to the dancers’ fluid movements. But this piece became more beautiful as couple after couple drew upon incredible physical strength and control to perform ever-changing, gravity-defying, and seemingly effortless lifts. Variety in tempo, level, and formation kept A Trace of Inevitability visually interesting, from duets with high overhead lifts and a spinning fish dive to sections with all nine dancers moving together. The choreographer also made excellent use of the space, such as when a group danced in unison before breaking apart to form a ring with one at the center.
Rennie Harris and Ballet Inc.
Following intermission, Rennie Harris Puremovement performed Nuttin’ But a Word!, a three-part work reflecting a range of emotions in the company’s signature hip-hop concert-dance style. “The Word” conveyed joy, making particularly good use of tempo when fast footwork paired with four female dancers’ slow, deliberate glances. “A Day in the Life” told the story of two friends enjoying a carefree day together, complete with Michael Jackson-esque moonwalking and crotch grabbing, until they meet up with the police and a misunderstanding becomes a tragedy. The final section, “Black Promises,” conveyed the survivor’s grief.
Ballet Inc.’s Silent Tears followed with a change of pace: an edgy take on a contemporary ballet duet. Masterfully danced to music by Bach, it featured lovely lifts and spins, such as when the male dancer spun the female dancer by one elbow and ankle as she held her body flat horizontally. The lighting kept the dancers half in shadow at times, and Alex Ziravac’s costumes had unexpected panels of black mesh, creating a cool look for the chic choreography.
Closing with Koresh
Koresh Dance Company closed the evening with excerpts from The Muse, its upcoming world premiere. In the first section, five men danced with the vibrant, masculine style choreographer Roni Koresh often uses until Melissa Rector appeared, approaching and dancing with each of the men individually. Another section called “Irish” blended elements of traditional Irish music and dance with staples of Koresh’s choreographic vocabulary, such as outstretched hands and muscular kicks to which long, shimmery skirts added drama. Less elegant than PA Ballet or Ballet Inc., The Muse was inventive and engaging, and likely did not aim for the same kind of elegance.
There was much to see at this year’s Come Together, where mixed programs can yield mixed results but always offer both fine dancing and an excellent diversity of dance. However, multiple delays on Saturday night—from a late start to an unexpectedly doubled intermission—gave an unfortunate dance-recital feel to this truly great event. Hopefully the festival will iron out these kinks in future years.
What, When, Where
Come Together Dance Festival presented by Koresh Dance Company. November 20-24, 2019, at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 S. Broad Street, Philadelphia. (215) 985-0420 or koreshdance.org.
The Suzanne Roberts Theatre is an ADA-compliant venue with wheelchair seating in both the orchestra and mezzanine. Patrons with questions about accessibility can call (215) 985-1400 x 100, or email [email protected].