More Human Than Human

Sense of Human
Koresh Dance Company
Sunday, May 2, 2010
Suzanne Roberts Theater

Many artists struggle with complacency throughout their careers. Like Picasso, with his tumultuous ride through evolution, abandoning the fundamentals of foundation, becoming an artist adept in portraiture- from his blue period to cubism and abstraction, he managed to find his niche after many stages of development. The arts breed such versatile, chameleon characters. In music, in performance, in writing, in dance, there is the never ending desire of improvement. Not only does the artist have to struggle with becoming better, if not perfect, there is a perpetual labor involving the importance of innovation in order to stay relevant. It is a ghost that haunts the element of creation. It is no wonder then that Ronen Koresh has given us something unique and personally unprecedented in his newest work, “Sense of Human”.

I left the Suzanne Roberts theater impressed, confused, surprised, curious and for the first time, a little disappointed. This is no doubt one of the strongest pieces of choreography Koresh has assembled, but certainly a departure from his signature work. I went into the theater admittedly with a closed mind; I always expect a good show from the ensemble. After following the troupe for so long I was thrilled that the shows were sold out and I actually had to wait to get a ticket. Unfortunately I missed the Youth Ensemble, choreographed by the Assistant Artistic Director of the company and prominently featured principal dancer, Melissa Rector.

I was ushered in just in time to see “Passomezzo”, a commissioned work choreographed by Ohad Naharin, Artistic Director of the Batsheva Dance Company. “Passomezzo” was an intricate and witty pas de deux that boasted some intense athleticism and charming simplicity. The creative use of lifts and falls and body contact depicted the highs and lows of personal relationships between man and woman. There was no real creative design in the costumes or stage or lighting, that provided the audience with a blank canvas with which to see the elegant playfulness of the duet unfold. Elements of square dancing, jazz, modern and ballet technique were intertwined with a new sort of dance that is hard to put into words, but comes from a simple place that breaks down movement into simple gestures. The backdrop was a compilation of various types of music including traditional folk music. Overall, it was a quick and dirty representation that didn’t take itself too seriously and was perfectly executed despite the sheer difficulty of the piece.

After intermission it was on to “Sense of Human”. As the lights dimmed down, the red velvet curtain remained closed as a spotlight shone on part of the curtain, traveling across it from stage left to stage right as if a ring leader was about to appear. Dim, eerie, nostalgic music played in the background almost as if there was someone behind the curtain playing an old record player. The music dimmed and the curtain rose as the spotlight went out. The stage was bare with the back wall of the stage exposed, painted all black. A metal bar was half lowered near the front of the stage with an industrial style lamp hanging from it, positioned right over a solo dancer laying on the floor. This was a captivating centerpiece to start the show.

After a short intro from the soloist onstage, soon the stage was crowded with company dancers dressed all in black wearing deconstructed costumes with exposed seams and uneven hems. This was the backdrop for the opening piece that had the namesake of the overall dance. The full company engaged in deep isolations and contractions of the body in almost animal-like form, crouching and kneeling, holding their arms and hands behind their necks, keeping their heads lowered. It was an intriguing start to the overall piece, creating a sense of drama and a raw passion that was thoroughly examined through this expository sequence.

The next section, entitled “Sometimes”, came about in one of the first of many incoherent transitions in which the dancers began a series of hard and soft movements the likes of leaps and turns and floor work. As they danced mercilessly, dialogue played in voiceover: “Sometimes I don’t know my name, where I’m going. Sometimes I get lost. Between the trees. Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning…sometimes I feel like I’m going to explode…”. At this point, we were left looking for definition in the words, trying to correlate the dialog to the movements. Much of the movement that was done by soloists detached from the overall chorus of dancers was lost due to unorthodox stage placements and choppy lighting, though it did create a sense of “being lost in a crowd”. It was an effective gesture from the choreographer but with the background of human sounds, humming and dialog, the piece was overwrought with depth, perhaps losing the simple meaning of the composition altogether.

The next piece was a bittersweet duet danced by veteran Melissa Rector and third year dancer Micah Geyer. It was a pleasant surprise to see this combination, for these two are rarely placed together in Koresh’s compositions. Rector’s explosive talents really shined in this piece and it was a nice change of pace seeing Geyer utilize his strengths in partnering. While the former was more successful in expressing a great deal emotion (per usual), the physicality of the dance was indicative of Koresh’s previous works down to the random gasps, yells and screeching that Rector does so well. Her visceral talent never ceases to be the highlight of every company performance.

Afterwards, we were treated to “Crash”, surely one of the most explosive components of the ballet. A dazzling and exciting quintet danced to a surprising score of techno-ish music, this piece demonstrated the fantastic abilities of the most powerful dancers in the troupe, newbies Joe Cotler and Asya Zlatina, and seasoned company members Jessica Daley, Kyle McHargh and Alezis Viator. Again, the lighting looked great but some of the dancers were lost, not well lit throughout, but the forceful nature of the piece really woke the audience up.

Next, a fanciful quartet with dancers dressed in blazers and shorts the way of “Gypsy”. The music again took another turn towards a carnival, accordion driven sound. This piece was marked by a superfluous amount of exaggeration exhibited by the dancers in that their expressions were choreographed to a “T” and much of the dance was clown-like. It was another hint of Koresh-ism here, for much of the success of his company is due to the auspicious way that the dancers express their personalities.

The next piece started after some appreciative applause from the audience for the previous engagement in the playful dance that preceded. “Air” danced by Eric Bean, Jr. and Shannon Bramham exhibited the first morsels of color in the costumes that wouldn’t show up again until the final piece. Bramham danced cheerily in a vintage inspired bathing suit while Bean wore an orange blazer and white pants. Their dance had a lot of gymnastic movements in it that was fun to watch. It was playful and engaging, almost a display of lightheartedness matched with desire. More dialog ensued, this time talking about love and the “breath that we share between us”. There was such a creative use of bodies here, marked significantly by Bramham sitting on Bean and using his body as a swing. It was the perfect match-up for this piece and both handled their part with bravado.

“Between the River and the Trees” was one of my favorite pieces. The introduction of the most creative costume designs were introduced here. The men wore an almost Asian-inspired utilitarian looking sleeveless shirt with venting details in the back while the female dancer, Fang-Ju Gant, wore a structured yet deconstructed dress with exposed tulle. She was accompanied by Joe Cotler and Kyle McHargh and they danced a trio curtained by a soft piano and violin piece with a dim blue wash of light on the stage. The piece took us back to the darkness of the work though while the men were quite stoic in their movements, Gant expressed a surprising amount of joie de vivre that contradicted what the piece might have tried to represent. Either way, the choreography was executed magnificently and it was a nice lull of wonderment and delight that allowed the audience to enjoy dance for what it was, not for what it could possible mean on a deeper level.

“Fantastic” was another group piece that was accompanied by a whimsical accordion track, and quick flailing of arms and legs accompanied by stomps and intricate arm work was seen here. In a flash, again, the Koresh technique came shining through but then again he ventured elsewhere with the next piece, “Touch” a dynamic duet danced by Jae Hoon Lim and Jessica Daley. In another wonderful pas de deux that came out of nowhere, the concept of being lost was exposed again over a track of percussion and whispering. Here we saw the next level of dance for the company, this explosive, intricate and demanding partnering that really anchored much of the overall work. Daley and Lim have never been better.

In “Breathe”, the show powered on in another group number where the dancers wore lightly colored, almost nude costumes. This piece almost served as a transition- there were slow, deliberate movements that were exhausted. This led into another successful duet, “Time For Two” danced by Joe Cotler and Alexis Viator.

“Time For Two” was a way for the choreographer to show off his newest talent, Joe Cotler, a massive, powerful dancer that moves with zeal and lust and is an obvious product of animal instinct and pure natural talent. He whips Viator around like a rag doll in this exciting display, and while Viator holds her own, she is almost overshadowed by the brute force and the awesome execution of Cotler’s abilities. He is captivating to watch and the score of distorted guitar fueled his fire of exhibitionism. This was a great recharge to the show that was starting to loose its appeal in the great length of which it was prolonged.

Next was “Go” that was a simple transition into the next two pieces, “Rain” and “Click”, which no one could have guessed would be the denouement of this exhausting ballet. The dancers cited the dialog we heard at the beginning of the piece, one dancer at a time randomly shouting “Go!” prompting some dancers to dance spastically, creating a sense of tension and release. Suddenly, the curtains on the sides of the stage were raised and it left the wings exposed, showing some of the backstage and mechanics of the lighting. Once again the work lifted to a higher, energetic place and then sunk back again into a slower more deliberate pace and we were left with a nondescript ending. Was it really over?

I didn’t read the notes in the program before I watched the show. To me, the title coerced feelings of wondering what it means to be human and to get inside yourself in order to examine how the outside world affects you. I left the theater nostalgic for Koresh’s specialties but was satisfied with having at least seen some of his style, new and old, in a variety of flavors.

“Sense of Human” was full of human error. While the dance itself was virtually flawless (as the company always maintains), this show was the perfect opportunity to exhibit the strength of the company to a new audience. No one could have predicted a sold-out show, but alas, I wanted to tell everyone that this piece wasn’t an accurate depiction of what the company is capable of.

I wondered what had happened here. The lighting, while pretty and interesting, failed in some areas to keep the dancers well lit. While the design did add some drama to some of the pieces, it can be very distracting when a dancer falls out of the light and it is never good for photography. Why not just light up the stage so everyone can see what’s going on? Sure, lighting creates a mood, but the import pales in comparison than getting a glimpse of a dancer’s face, especially in a company that has dancers that actually smile and frown and yell and talk.

Many of the costumes were stylish and cool. I loved the deconstructed look of many in the first half of the show. Most of the pieces were all black or grey sans about three pieces that had color. In the final piece, the females adorned these weird leotards that looked like spanks covered in an orange and yellow, red-ish velvet print. I did not understand. Otherwise, the costumes were spot on, but the injection of color could have been more prominent.

I was curious to know what was going on backstage. For the first time, there was no Melissa Rector solo. The veteran cast was seemingly underrepresented while the newer players were highly featured. This is not to say that I wasn’t virtually blown away by both of the apprentices, Joe Cotler and Asya Alatina, but for such a new, sold-out audience, it was unfortunate that they did not get to see the usual amount of dance from the veteran company members who have helped to make a name for the enterprise as a whole.

I wonder then that with this piece, with such a departure from the norm, was the choreographer just looking for a change? Did he need something new? Was he trying to reinvent himself? Was this the next step in artistic development? Why no use of props that he does so well with, such unbelievable work with? Why so much duet work? Really, no Melissa Rector solo? Really?

I have just cast some new dancers for my show coming up and I am excited to be working with fresh meat. I have so many ideas and so many ways I want to use their skills, so much that the thoughts are overshadowing my older girls, the ones who have helped me to mold my technique, my original muses. I guess that is the way of the artist, sometimes you want to use red paint instead of blue. Sometimes you want to try to paint on wood instead of canvas et al.

I pined over it for a time and while I empathized with the artist’s desire for change (because change is change) I still could not fight the desire to see what he is known for. Artists change all the time and it is met with acceptance, love and/or anger, depending on the viewer/listener. When I finally got around to reading the program notes, it all started to make sense. Quite simply put, Ronen Koresh explains, “My goal while creating ‘Sense of Human’ was to challenge myself by attempting the creative process in a new way.” In this, he also challenged the audience that was familiar with his work. He went on to explain his desire to make his work more accessible. I have seen constant variations in his work, pieces that have ran the gamut to plain weird and whacky to elegant, beautiful, simple ballets. While newcomers are without a doubt impressed with the extremes in which his choreography takes his dancers and the wonderful compositions he constructs, it is those who know that this departure left a little to be desired- more of the him that he left behind. Alas, he is only human.

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