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Koresh Dance Company celebrated its 2023 Home Season with Masquerade, an ambitious new work of dance incorporating music and theater. It combined choreography by founder/artistic director Ronen Koresh with original music by Sage DeAgro-Ruopp to evoke the circular ambiguity of a poem by Karl Mullen, which appeared in the program. Mullen’s “Hide Your Face, Unmask Your Heart” contrasts silence and sound, remembering and forgetting, existing and not existing. The poem also portrays masks as both oppressive and liberatory, and Masquerade drew upon its images to explore tensions between appearance and reality, sincerity and jest, and the nature of truth.
But first, the Koresh Youth Ensemble took the stage for the opening piece, Drip, which featured music by DeAgro-Ruopp and choreography by Melissa Rector. Rector is the artistic director of the youth ensemble in addition to dancing with the main company, where she serves as assistant artistic director. Koresh Youth Ensemble consistently dazzles under her leadership and vision, performing at levels I associate with established professionals rather than dancers between the ages of 13 and 17. Chelsea Abramowitz, Kae Bright, Destiny Cruz, Lucy Embry, Chloe Hally, Dalia Meisel, Ava Paonessa, Daniella Place, Sarah Price, Stella Resnick, and Addison Schultz effortlessly performed complex formations to shifting tempos at various levels. The Youth Ensemble may provide the amuse-bouche to Koresh Dance Company performances, but they always leave viewers hungry for more.
Masterful and mesmerizing
Masquerade began in a grand style reminiscent of a Venetian masquerade ball. Dancers in frilly white collars and red breeches surrounded DeAgro-Ruopp, who wore a white dress, sang, and played a melodica. Three tall panels behind them, alternately lit in various colors and shadows, resembled stained-glass windows. Though Masquerade comprised 15 discrete scenes, beginnings and endings were difficult to determine. Instead, the whole of the dance explored boundaries between the real and the imaginary or feigned.
Koresh dancers flowed masterfully through the striking visuals and intricate choreography, beautifully lit by lighting designer Peter Jakubowski. An early scene resembled a dance class, with a single dancer turning his back to the audience to direct others’ movements. Later, a duet for Robert Tyler and Micah Geyer saw one dancer moving the other like a puppet until the two struggled for control. Masquerade juxtaposed laughter with conflict, often reprising images of struggle, dominance, and jest. Clad in a black dress, DeAgro-Ruopp collapsed as dancers laughed. Meanwhile, Kevan Sullivan pretended to fight and then sit upon Ronen Koresh, who wore a hat that partially concealed his identity.
In the first half, Geyer, Sullivan, Tyler, and Devon Larcher lifted and carried Rector. Then she rode one of the men like a horse before somersaulting away. Rector was mesmerizing throughout Masquerade, which paired this new work’s innovations with classic Koresh-style choreography for maximum effect. Sullivan and Callie Hocter performed lifts and flips in a sensual yet contentious duet set to clips of movie dialogue. This scene gave way to an excellent mirror dance for two women in leather dresses and flapper wigs who moved through tempo changes with breathtaking precision.
Koresh shining through
Masquerade did not finish as strong as it began due to a much-shorter second act and a perplexing false ending. The full company took the stage for a sequence that suggested a surreal Weimar cabaret, with dancers in military-style jackets and Rector twirling a baton. The next scene seemed to signal the conclusion as DeAgro-Ruopp sang, “I’m afraid the masquerade is over.” But she and the dancers returned for another scene with a bittersweet feel before the raucous final section. Set to original music by Elizabeth Cotton with the lyrics “Everything I’ve got is done and pawned,” its upbeat dejection contrasted with the splendor of Masquerade’s beginning.
Throughout Masquerade, paired sequences for the company’s nine dancers left one without a partner. Other viewers may not have noticed, but I marveled at how the odd one out created the appearance of dancing with an invisible partner as she moved in sync with the four couples onstage. Seeing the solo dancer reminded me of how everyone takes a turn as the third wheel in the dance of life, and I appreciated how Masquerade reflected this.
This production included more recordings of spoken text than other Koresh Dance performances, including nursery rhymes and poems by Paul Verlaine. Yet the recordings were difficult to hear. And while promotional materials stated that Masquerade featured live singing, some of the music appeared to be recorded. DeAgro-Ruopp’s commanding presence befit a masquerade ball, but I prefer to keep the spotlight on the dancing. And the dancing was terrific despite Masquerade’s thematic unevenness. Ultimately, the company’s distinctive movement vocabulary, which blends modern with elements of Yemenite folk dance, shone through in dramatic gestures and energetic, athletic choreography.
What, When, Where
Masquerade. Choreography by Ronen Koresh. Koresh Dance Company. $35-$45. May 4-7, 2023, at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 S Broad Street, Philadelphia. (215) 751-0959 or koreshdance.org.
The Suzanne Roberts Theatre is a wheelchair-accessible venue, with wheelchair seating available on the orchestra and mezzanine levels.
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