The next generation of choreography at Koresh

Koresh Dance Company presents One Thousand and One Nights

4 minute read
3 women pose on tiptoes with arms up; a man in black seems to control the moves of a woman dancing near the ground in front
From left: Meg Allison, Joanna Eyre, Daniil Zakirzyanov, Mia Allison, and Hannah Gaetke in act one of ‘One Thousand and One Nights,’ by Jim Bunting. (Photo by Michael Pilla.)

How do veterans of a dance company with distinctive signature styles differentiate their own voices and visions? This question preoccupied me on the way to One Thousand and One Nights, a new work of contemporary dance that explored healing, truth, and self-awareness through the emerging vision of two artists with ties to Koresh: Melissa Rector and Jim Bunting.

Performed February 17 and 18 in the black-box theater at Koresh Dance Company’s Rittenhouse Square studio, the project was a collaboration between Bunting, a former company member, and Rector, a dancer with the company, its assistant artistic director, and artistic director of the Koresh Youth Ensemble. Each is an experienced choreographer, and they worked together on Backwoods in 2023.

The influence of Ronen “Roni” Koresh’s combination of ballet, modern, and jazz is apparent in Bunting’s and Rector’s work. Yet, One Thousand and One Nights was unique in exciting ways. Bunting choreographed the first act and Rector the second. The two acts touched on similar themes. Though they lacked an obvious connection, both featured outstanding performances full of compelling movement and striking images.

Musing on manipulation

Bunting’s dance quickly established themes of control and autonomy. In the opening scene, one dancer posed the others’ still bodies as if they were mannequins. The manipulated dancers’ synchronized arm movements and gestures of thought characterized their manipulator as benevolent. But then, a challenger took control of the group. Daniil Zakirzyanov shone as a mad scientist-type figure in a swirling black frock coat. He mimed turning a crank behind a collapsed dancer, which set her in motion as if she were a wind-up toy.

Ultimately, the others appeared to wrest control from the mad scientist. The first act culminated with the tables turned as those he had controlled now wound him up. After a theatrical cough, he began to lip sync along with “Maria” by Kerala Dust (2018), a song with an ominous sound and lyrics about a powerful but conflicted desire. Initially, Zakirzyanov stood in front of Meg Allison, Mia Allison, Joanna Eyre, Kieran Cooke, Hannah Gaetke, Lily Santana, and Magnolia Williams as they danced. Then their movement seemed to engulf him so that he stood among their moving bodies before finally joining in.

Confident femme energy

A narrative thread united the first act of One Thousand and One Nights, while act two hinged upon a confident femme energy. Pops of color in Rector’s dance contrasted with Bunting’s all-black costumes, and it approached similar themes through a different perspective by looking through a female lens. The first section featured dancers in red camisoles with white bloomers who gesticulated urgently, thrust their hips, pointed their feet, and sashayed across the stage with hands on hips. In the second, dancers in black tunics and long red skirts mimed scrubbing floors and birthing an infant. These images combined with the desperate yet alluring ones of the dancers in red and white to evoke Handmaids and Marthas from The Handmaid’s Tale.

Women in loose black tops & flowing red skirts in the same pose: feet planted wide, hands together, one elbow pointed up
From left: Shannon Bramham, Hannah Gaetke, Kat Corbett, Alicia Tom, Sarah Warren, Cheryl Francaviglia, and Michelle Figueiredo in act two of ‘One Thousand and One Nights,' by Melissa Rector. (Photo by Michael Pilla.)

Dancers shook the skirts in their hands and lunged in swinging stomps as the second act neared its climax. They pulled off their black tunics to reveal white tops underneath, then began a witchy circle dance. The final section was the strongest as Shannon Bramham, Kat Corbett, Paige Devitt, Michelle Figueiredo, Cheryl Fracaviglia, Gaetke, Callie Hocter, Sarah Shaulis, Alicia Tom, Tori Vincent, and Sarah Warren filled the stage with movement. Now wearing leggings and tank tops in different colors, they repeatedly brought their hands to their faces and throats, seeming to look at something far away.

Then the sound system glitched. After a pause, a brave dancer began counting out the timing: “And a-one, two, three, four, five…” The dance concluded in this fashion, culminating in a sea of movement, voices, and togetherness.

New themes stand alone

Rector’s and Bunting’s work echoed elements of Koresh’s unmistakable high-energy, athletic style and its blend of techniques. Yet, each act possessed the capacity to stand alone, and they addressed themes I hadn’t seen in the Koresh repertoire. Both used the space creatively and varied formation, tempo, and level in ways that lent visual appeal to the whole program. Two solos were less engaging than other sections, but all were well-danced. The choreographers explore timely topics in discrete ways, and One Thousand and One Nights audiences will be eager to see more from Rector, Bunting, and their talented dancers. In addition, it leaves me curious to see how Koresh company members and alumni might continue to contribute to the ever-evolving landscape of contemporary dance.

What, When, Where

One Thousand and One Nights. Choreography by Jim Bunting and Melissa Rector. Koresh Dance Company. $25-$30. February 17 and 18, 2024, at Koresh’s Black Box Theater, 2002 Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia. (215) 751-0959 or


The Koresh studio is accessible only by stairs.

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