In a rehearsal room inside the new home of Koresh Dance Company, 10 dancers seem to be in their own worlds stretching and working through steps in their heads. There are dancers seated in threes and pairs practicing duets and holds. Roni Koresh, the company’s namesake and artistic director and lead choreographer, lifts himself up from a mustard-yellow club chair: It’s time to play the portion of the show featuring “Through the Skin,” the poem whose title the show shares. It’s a trippy collection of sounds, recitation layered over mysterious clicks, hisses and noise. But something strange starts to happen: The dancers start slowly falling into formation, seamlessly forming lines of spins, reaches and extensions. They are perfectly in unison, leaning, leaping and using their bodies in that exquisite way only artists whose canvasses are their own physical forms can.
Koresh Dance Company is one of Philadelphia’s cultural treasures, posing gracefully alongside such contemporaries as PA Ballet, BalletX and Philadanco. After nearly 21 years on Chestnut Street, Koresh and his company pulled together nearly $300,000 to gut a former fitness center off of Rittenhouse Square, turning it into a suitably grand home for their extraordinary compositions of movement. KDC is a touring troupe that calls Philly home; in the midst of bouncing around the nation to show the world what they’ve been creating, they’re making a momentous stop at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre for three days to reveal Through the Skin—a work they’ve been perfecting for some time now.
“It’s not bad,” Roni says after nearly every run through the dance’s three movements. He stands up to mimic what he sees and what he wants to see using a language only dancers can understand. He explains technical aspects, but also attempts to communicate the gravity of the mood and the depth of the sentiment. One scene involves dancer Robert Tyler, posing starkly and doing his best to look angry, determined and poised to control his minions. “He’s the father, he’s the high priest,” Koresh explains to the others. “You’d do anything for him. You’d walk on your knees.”
They run through “Bang, Bang, Banging,” a duet between Jessica Daley and Asya Zlatina set to percussive tribal music. The movement is effortlessly Koresh, combining elements of jazz, African, ballet and Koresh’s atypical bend toward a genre-spanning athleticism. He’s helping them “clean,” as he puts it, “fixing an arm, a leg, a turn.” The end goal is that “their bodies take over, and the mind goes empty.”
That’s exactly what Through the Skin is about.
“The logic of the body brings us to a conclusion that may be better than a conclusion from the brain,” Koresh explains. The focus, he says, should be on the artist’s expression and what it makes you feel.
“People always want to know ‘What’s it about?’ he says. “And I say ‘I dunno—what do you think? Watch the show, and then we’ll sit down and talk.’” That’s not to say that he hasn’t thought through almost every detail of every clap, hold, lift and unexpected screech. He’d rather viewers just take in his artists on a more visceral level, responding to how their bodies move.
In one of the company’s last rehearsal run-throughs, they execute something called “Jumping Jacks,” written by former Philadelphian Greg Smith. In it, most of the dancers make unexpected utterances such as a three-times-repeated “Aww, stop!” “It’s not enough to just move. The body is not enough,” Koresh insists. “The power comes from the focus.”
There’s no doubt these able professionals are focused as they ask Koresh questions throughout, looking for guidance on the shape of a pose or the length of a hold. “They’re not afraid of me,” he says. That much is clear: They just need to get his complete vision. “They’re best friends, instruments and great artists,” Koresh says of his company. “That’s why I’m building this [new space] for them.”
Fri., Nov. 15 though Sun., Nov. 17. Various times. $25-$35. Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 S. Broad St. 215.985.0420. koreshdance.org