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Flash Review 2, 10-23: One Night Only
Koresh and Brian Sanders Rock the Crowd

By Anne-Marie Mulgrew
Copyright 2000 Anne-Marie Mulgrew

PHILADELPHIA -- Koresh Dance Company's fifth season sold-out Annenberg Center's Zellerbach Theatre in a one-performance only engagement Saturday. The well-crafted program of five works featured choreography by artistic director Ronen Koresh and guest choreographer/dancer Brian Sanders for Koresh's commanding ten-member company.

The evening opened with "Exile," a stunning 30-minute interdisciplinary work for seven dancers, featuring eye-catching scrim-size digital animation and projections by Bill Bahmermann, haunting music by philosopher/composer Zenon Feszczak, passionate choreography by Ronen Koresh, and exquisite lighting design (throughout the evening) by Peter Jakubowski. I appreciated the quiet balance and dynamic interplay between each medium. There were sublime solo moments such as a bird flying or dawn rising on the scrim, a singular melody reminiscent of a folk song, dancers biting deeply into a lush extension or the painterly use of lighting. All this made for a great evening out. It was sad that there weren't more seats to accommodate all those that showed up.

"Exile"'s story takes place in a war-torn village. Seven accomplished dancers reenact a community displaced, weakened, strengthened and united by he act of war. Koresh was born in Israel, where he trained in the Yemenite folk tradition. He arrived in NYC to study at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and soon came to Philadelphia to perform as a lead dancer with the popular jazz-based Waves Dance Company. These influences are present in his choreography. In "Exile," I particularly enjoyed the passages reflecting his folk roots. Koresh uses a circle to connect, to confirm, and not to exclude. He exactly defines the role of the group to the soloist Fang-Ju Chou, who wonderfully dances the victim and the young girl in this demanding four-section work.

Koresh appears to work with the music as a motivator for his movements and this marriage, although very pleasing, led to a tad of predictability in the middle sections. Bahmermann's vibrant mass media images of war, soldiers, dawn, clouds, flags, smoke and birds fill the stage, informing the audience about place, mood and time while juxtaposing Koresh's highly emotional yet abstract movement language. It is a language marked by sweeping turns, expansive jumps, high extensions, groupings, canons and clean ensemble work. I enjoyed experiencing the intensity, especially the way it culminates in contemplative silence (although we in the audience still feel the impact of the visual and audio imagery), as expressed by Chou's soft-edge solos.

This served as a reminder perhaps that even in war, there is time for quiet, a time to be alone, and being alone can be disconcerting. "Exile" digs into a deep place. It simultaneously gives the popular culture audience fast-paced visual-audio-kinetic-sensual imagery while allowing the Koresh Dance Company to explore new artistic terrain.

Most satisfying was "Exile"'s ending. Dancers enter a bare stage carrying suitcases, exiting in solos and duets as the music continues into the intermission, leaving me with a nagging thought that war is never over, we carry it within ourselves, it is omnipresent.

"Aliform," choreographed by Brian Sanders, an incredibly talented Philadelphia-based dancer who performs internationally with Momix, suggests aliens inhabiting the human form. It begins with five compelling female dancers in long trench-like coats draped on a mannequin base rod. At first they are frozen. The suspense is mouth-watering as the dancers move slowly to expose different body parts and short trunks and midriff costumes. I savor Melissa Rector's dangling legs before she drops off the structure onto the ground. The physical sense of suspension heightens my expectation of what happens when they hit the earth. Do they turn into mere walking talking mortals? What is the relationship/intention of this ravenous female community? The driving music by Craig Armstrong and David Lynch builds, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats. The dancers cover space with hair and limbs flying, pushing chausees, lovely arch-backed attitude turns. Rector hits a delightful 180-plus side lay-out. There are beautiful moments of partnering and group lifts with occasional interactions back to the base. At one point, my mind fantasizes, I want to see this piece as a solo. The on-stage unison moments are not working for me. Just as I am yearning for a change in the movement vocabulary (away from an abstract technical modern base), Sanders delivers. The dancers return to their opening places. They delightfully, individually twist, shake, dangle, vibrate and take off as the lights dim -- sending me to a new dimension.

Next on the program, Sanders, wearing a short black unitard, goggles and black bathing cap, performs his knockout, mesmerizing, crowd-pleasing solo "Underwater Study #5." Sanders is a pro. He knows how to "work" the crowd. Like a master illusionist, he creates the sensation of swimming in a singular pool of light on a vertical axis. He butterflies (what incredible inner thigh power), back strokes, and sneaks in a few muscle-man poses -- rippling every muscle in his well chiseled physique, sending the audience into roaring delight. Although I have seen this piece several times, it continues to amaze me by its clarity, undying commitment to the premise, fun message that incites the audience and powerful execution.

It a hard act to follow! Koresh succeeds with his in-your-face "Siblings," performed by Janine Walter and Alexander E. Simon to Michael Nyman's punctuated music. What ensues is a short, playful, cartwheeling piece about the changing relationship between a sister (Walter) and the brother (Simon). It's another war of sorts. They fight, push, shove, play, partner one another, nudge, prod and finally hug, making the audience chuckle.

"The Fifth Season," the closer, opens with the black leather-costumed company moving to Daniel Bacon's thrusting score. The men (Manuel A. Jordan, Jae H. Lim, Derrick Yanford and Simon) are bare-chested wearing tight long pants. The women (Amy Elfers, Sarah Irwin, Melissa Kershner, Walter, Rector and Chou) are in sleek camisole body suits. Koresh returns to his jazz stomping ground with high energy, wide legs, contractions, isolations, heel-held extensions, nose-kicking fan kicks that lunge backwards into one-handed springs into the floor, soaring jumps and turns, male-female strutting/stalking/aggression, all male/all female sections and explosive entrances and exits. It's a battle of the sexes (think Alvin Ailey meets Chorus Line) with Koresh's star dancer, Rector, as reigning queen. She controls, orders and freely takes from her obedient male corps. She's fearless as she dives backwards to be caught by in a superb arabesque balance, tossed overhead ending in her signature 180-plus lateral tilt. She uses, abuses, thrills. These moments are balanced by a hot/cool duet with Sarah Irwin and Jae H. Lim and "give-all" ensemble work. I question the logic as to how these sections connect and Koresh's sometimes choice of classroom jazz phrases and staging of the tight unison ensemble sections. However, the audience doesn't seem to mind these small points. Exhalted, they rise to their feet, giving the company a thunderous ear-shattering standing ovation.

Koresh Dance Company is on the move with engagements in Virginia, North Carolina, New Jersey and New York.

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