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Merilyn Jackson
Wilma Theater
United States
Philadelphia, PA


by Merilyn Jackson
November 5, 2006
Wilma Theater
265 South Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107
World premiere of second choreographic commission for Donald Byrd on the Philadelphia-based company.
Roni Koresh's 14-year old dance company fills a niche in Philadelphia dance that no one else can. Like Philadanco and The Pennsylvania Ballet, he's always gathered a clutch of stellar dancers and works them drop-dead hard. Of course as a teacher at UArts, he gets to raid the cream of the crop every year. He also gives them plenty of good material to dance. Lately he's found outside choreographers he feels are a good fit for his jazzy modern dance style.

This year he invited Tony-Award nominee (The Color Purple) Donald Byrd back to mount a second dance on his company. Byrd first put his country roadhouse romp, Living in East Podunk, on the company at DanceBoom! 2003. "One of the reasons I bring in guest choreographers," he said at rehearsal in their swank Chestnut Street studio, "is to give my dancers a way to stretch beyond what we often do."

The world-premiere by Byrd has seven dancers and stars Melissa Rector, the fiery dancer who's been with Koresh from the beginning. In three parts, the 29-minute piece will be danced with the women in bustled ball gowns with raised skirts and the men in jackets designed by Hiroshi Iwasaki.

Byrd, now based in Seattle where he directs Spectrum Dance Theater, says he long wanted to make a work inspired by the ballroom ballets of George Balanchine. "Works like La Valse and La Sonnambula carry a sense of fate and loss. They have undercurrents of something going wrong." Inspired by Balanchine's first attempt at the genre, the 1929 Le Bal, Byrd combined Balanchine's title with the idea of darkness derived from film noir for his title, Le Bal Noir.

At rehearsal, Michael Velez gets slapped by Rector and kisses her for the insult. She sidles up to John Kennette and he takes on Jessica Daley for a body locking and rocking duet. Rector turns to Curtis Lassiter, clearly anguishing over the man whose coat she clutches. Back to John who swings her like a pendulum, symbolizing the indecision of … well, it is very romantic.

Byrd chose a Brahms piano quartet, not something you would normally see this group dancing to. Would Koresh ever be willing to give up his techno and ethnic-based music to try something classical?

"Sure," he says, "it inspires me. I love Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich, and many other composers. I would love to use something from them but I have a small ensemble, only eight to nine dancers. Big orchestrations are too much for them, so I tend to go towards quartets and use only one or two sections, mixing them with others in a piece."

The program includes two of Koresh's works, Standing In Tears and Looking Back: Music from the 40s and 50s. It's part of something he did with choreographers Myra Bazell and Brian Sanders at Annenberg last spring. "Yes, that's right," he said, "Myra was given the 60s and Brian the 80s. I got the 40s and 50s. When we took our part on the road, audiences gave it such a tremendous response, I decided to complete it to about a 40-minute work. It's got 15 hit songs in it. I've been working on Perry Como's mambo and just finished it today."

Standing In Tears premiered in 2005 with only three sections and again audiences received the work so well, Koresh added three more sections still bringing it in at less than a half hour. "It has music from six different cultures," he explained. "Israeli Yeminite music, Lebanese, Argentine tango, Brazilian Fado, as well as from France and Algiers — all kind of folkish."

Inspired by seeing one of his dancers walk to rehearsal and looking non-descript, he realized how "anyone following her would be shocked to see what an incredible creature she'd become once she started dancing."

Koresh Dance Company
Nov. 10, 8pm, Nov. 11 at 2pm/8pm (evening show, post-performance Q and A)
Nov. 12, 7pm
Wilma Theater
265 South Broad Street
Box Office: 215.546.7824
Wilma box office and the Koresh School of Dance 215-751-0959. Tickets: $30 regular, $25 students and seniors. Groups of 20 or more, $22.
Koresh Dance Company's Jessica Daley in Le Bal Noir

Koresh Dance Company's Jessica Daley in Le Bal Noir

Photo © & courtesy of Gabriel Bienczycki

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