Philadelphia festival showcases 33 local dance companies

Koresh’s Dance Company hosted its third annual “Come Together Dance Festival,” where various modes of dance meshed at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre.

Audience members leisurely filtered into the Suzanne Roberts Theatre to watch dancers from all corners of Philadelphia congregate on a single stage.

Koresh Dance Company’s third annual “Come Together Dance Festival,” July 23 through July 27, drew sold-out crowds across five evenings as 33 local dance companies showcased excerpts of their work.

The festival, funded by the Knight Foundation, featured six to ten companies each night, including companies like PHILADANCO! and Rennie Harris PureMovement, as well as troupes like idiosynCrazy Productions and 10 Hairy Legs.

“The Philadelphia dance scene is a little fragmented,” said Joan Myers Brown, artistic director/founder of PHILADANCO, founder of the International Conference of Black Dance Companies and a 2012 recipient of the National Medal of Arts by President Obama. “The festival is very beneficial because it gives audiences the opportunity to see more than one kind of dance.”

The closing night opened on a pastoral note with excerpts of “American Standard” from Brian Sanders’ JUNK, a company distinguished by its usage of “found objects” as the cornerstone of its choreography.  For this particular piece, six denim-clothed company members performed acrobatic dance amid string band music and haystacks.

From barnyard sets to Beethoven sounds, the collection of pieces served as a testimony to the breadth of Philadelphian performing artists and artistry.  

“I’ve seen this festival when it was just 30 people at the Koresh studio,” said audience member and Temple University Class of 1994 alumnus Mike Donovan. “It’s great to see it now in a more formal, bigger venue.”

During another performance, seven dancers of Project Moshen mastered the art of synchronicity under fervent red lighting. The jazz company closed the first act with an invigorating performance centered upon female liberation.

“These two pieces showcase woman independence, confidence and strengths as an individual and as a group,” said dancer and Artistic Director Kelli Moshen. “We love being able to showcase our newest work to a different broader audience and being able to perform in a theatre like the Suzanne Roberts.”

Aside from various shades of lighting and textures of costumes, companies inherited differing inspiration sources as well.

Ballet Inc. featured a Pas de deux, or duet, called “Jamais Ton” (Ever Thine), based on love letters written by Beethoven.  Embodying classic romantic phrases, like  “Ever thine. Ever mine. Ever ours.,” the pair of dancers are the first to represent Ballet Inc. in the Come Together Dance Festival.

“When looking for opportunities for my company, I look for prestigious festivals that will encompass high level of choreographic diversity,” said Ballet Inc. artistic director and choreographer Aaron Atkins. “Come Together Festival is the epitome of this standard.”

The size of dance troupes was also a varying element of the festival. Duets danced alongside large ensembles of dancers, like Katrina Atkin’s nine-person piece “Time is Fleeting – Time is Eternal.”

Originally performed as Atkin’s senior thesis work at University of the Arts three years ago, the performance is a relaxed, yet riveting reworking of ballet. A bit of irony is conveyed as company members dressed in modern clothing dance to the classical music of Beethoven.

The history behind this piece is prime evidence of yet another aspect of the festival: the assortment of veteran and up-and-coming artists.

“As a young choreographer, it is an absolute honor to be sharing a bill with both biggest names in Philly as well as other emerging artists,” said Katrina Atkin.

The spectacle drew to a finale with three pieces from Koresh Dance Company, concluding with a performance choreographed to impressionist composer Maurice Ravel’s Boléro. In this majestic affair, nine dancers graced in and out of shadowed parts of the stage, creating a striking effect accompanied by the syncopated sounds of the classic score.

For the artists, the most fulfilling aspect of this festival is the coalition of craft, granting an opportunity that wouldn’t ordinarily be given when companies dance in isolated performances.

“[The festival] gets the dancers to know each other and see each other’s works,” said Myers-Brown. “People get to be single-focused and they only see what they do. They don’t see what’s outside their own work, so this is an opportunity for them to know what other dancers in the city are doing.”

This union of local dancers not only serves as a viewing opportunity, but also as a prospect of enlightenment for their own works, which in due course, progresses the universal essence of performance.  

“Being apart of this festival strives you to be the best you can be and share your passion for dance,” said Moshen. “It is nice to see what other companies are up to. They are all my teachers and peers. We learn from one another.”

“The dance community is built on a system of sharing ideas, techniques or styles in hopes to continuously evolve the art form,” said Aaron Atkins. “The Come Together Festival is one of the epicenters that houses this philosophy.”

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