Koresh Dance Company
The Wilma Theater, Philadelphia, PA
November 10, 2006
Reviewed by Lewis Whittingtonr
Michael Velez (center) and Jessica Daley (right) in “Hound Dog” from Ronen Koresh’s Looking Back: The Music of the ’40s and ’50s
Photo by Gabriel Bienczycki, courtesy Koresh Dance Company
For his first full-evening program at the Wilma Theater, artistic director Ronen Koresh chose three works to showcase his troupe’s versatility. In the case of Donald Byrd’s premiere Le Bal Noir, which seemed heavy handed and ponderous, the company’s performance level remained charged, if technically haphazard.
Noir is a desiccated arena of tormented desires symbolized by the tinsel chandeliers, burnished drapes, torn-off cutaways on the men and bunched-up, sheer, floral skirts for the women. In the entr’acte of love gone awry, Jon Kennette (maybe a spectral loser of a duel) enters with blood on his military jacket. He and Michael Velez partner in anguished duets with Melissa Rector and Alexandra Gherchman, flanked by a quartet of ladies, who alternately crouch on the floor and scurry around them. Despite all the dramaturge and stunning stage pictures of haunted antebellum milieu, the plot is sketchy and gives way to dancing amok.
After a pause Byrd lets the narrative float on the double-tempo piano runs of Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 1, bringing sharp unison movement to the women, in pared-down gowns, and a commanding if cryptic solo by Curtis Lassiter (perhaps a time traveler?), in neutral attire. Byrd’s ponderous exposition looked overwrought on these dancers, but his quicker phrases gave them something to grab onto, and they played thrillingly against their usual contemporary style.
In Koresh’s surefire favorite Looking Back: the Music of the ’40s and ’50s, high-voltage emcee Velez led the Savoy Lindy hop, to “Sing, Sing, Sing,” to unpredictable style as a dance and social exposé. Following that frenzy came the bongo cool of Peggy Lee’s “Fever,” a quintet for the women about female synergy.
Velez and Jessica Daley smoldered in a jazz-tango to Louis Armstrong’s “Kiss of Fire” and later in Elvis’ “Hound Dog.” Daley hilariously dance-pummeled and kicked him to the curb. Velez joined Kennette and Lassiter in snappy barrel rolls and airy glissades down “Route 66.” Later, Dean Martin’s lounge hit “Sway” had these guys in cat-burglar outfits dancing with imaginary partners. Using such well-known songs can present problems, not the least being the nostalgic expectations that have to be either fulfilled or expunged for something contextually more meaningful. Some of the numbers were not as choreographically tight, but Koresh made this more than a dance down memory lane; he evokes romance, rebellion, and the sexual charge of the era.
Standing in Tears is signature Koresh, with its Middle Eastern dance idioms, his communal rituals that skirt political subtext, and with dancers stepping out of uniformity to express their hearts, minds, and most of all, passion. See www.koreshdance.org.