Koresh fosters community in annual festival

When Philadelphia’s Koresh Dance Company hosts its third-annual Come Together Dance Festival this weekend, Ronen and Alon Koresh will welcome a radically diverse range of steps and styles with 33 participating dance organizations — nine more than last year’s iteration.

As always, Come Together will watch juxtaposing genres from hip hop, tap and jazz to ballet, modern, contemporary dance, acrobatic physical theater and traditional African and Indian dances. Most hail from local companies such as PHILADANCO!, Kùlú Mèlé African Dance & Drum Ensemble, Rennie Harris Puremovement, Brian Sanders’ JUNK, Raphael Xavier and Kun-Yang/Lin Dancers. There are new choreographers and young dancers from the Rock School for Dance Education, the University of the Arts and the Koresh Youth Ensemble. And, for the first time in Come Together’s brief history, Koresh welcomes national guests to the party: 10 Hairy Legs (Highlands Park, N.J.), Ballet Inc. (New York City) and Seattle’s Spectrum Dance Theatre, led by Donald Byrd.

“It brings together people of different cultures, different artistic visions — from very popular to very abstract — and different economic statuses who might not usually all be mixing at one performance,” Koresh said. He mentioned too that his company, which he heads with his brother, is partnering with Philadelphia Dance Day 2015 to offer a free adult beginner hip-hop class July 25 during the festival.

Koresh talked about the strains and joys of being a dance company producing a festival for other dance companies.

“Because you are a part of it, you know; you feel you understand the performers better than a presenter who doesn’t also experience our world from the inside,” he said. “Our company is 25 years old next year. We were very young, with so much passion when we founded the company, believing we could change the world of dance, facing a lot of hardship. Sometimes I was ready to give up, but we kept going. We have seen so many companies come and go along the way. Through the years, I learned that what kept us going through the hardship is our passion, fueled by the people who surrounded us and the feedback received from our audiences.”

That connection to Koresh’s audiences allowed the company to extend its good vibes to other dance organizations.

“I feel proud, happy and satisfied that we are able to bring all these companies together to share the same stage, and their ideas, and to get to know one another,” Koresh said. “If there is anything positive coming out of those connections, I feel we did our share.”

So do many of the dancers joining in Come Together — many of whom identify as LGBT — who crave community within the dance world. Of course that starts with Koresh Company dancers, like Shannon Bramham and Kevan Sullivan.

“What makes Koresh unique is that we pull from all styles of dance, with dancers well rounded in ballet, modern, jazz and hip hop and a director who infuses Israeli folk dance into the choreography,” Sullivan said about a blend that makes the company powerful, entertaining and relatable to wide audiences.

Bramham added that “rawness of expression” and Ronen Koresh’s gift of combining all sorts of “dance and emotion into an evening of great art” make the company crucial. “I love the fact that the women are often portrayed as strong and powerful, not damsels in distress,” Branham said about Koresh’s unique physicality and emotion.

Sullivan noted that Ronen brings strong masculine energy out of his male dancers.

“People often assume a ‘gay male dancer’ is quite feminine and flamboyant,” he said. “However, Roni calls for his male dancers to be strong, powerful movers and highly reliable partners that connect physically and emotionally to the person they are dancing with, no matter their sexuality.”

That sense of unity will be broadened with Come Together, a festival that allows Philadelphia dancers to connect as a unit and welcome out-of-towners like New York City’s Aaron Atkins, the founding artistic director and resident choreographer of Ballet Inc. Atkins’ company was created to redefine the principles that enable diverse, talented dancers to have a platform to share their artistic voices, while merging various forms of dance.

“I feel that most companies today represent only a small portion of diversity within the dance community,” said Atkins, whose choreographic career began in 2009. “When I audition artists for placement within the company, I observe what they bring to the movement and stage verses their body type or ethnicity.”

As a Southerner, dance has always been a means of communication for Atkins, especially since he grew up in an area where he was not accepted by his peers.

“Dance was and is my outlet. It was my way out,” he said.

Atkins, who is openly gay, believes “gay America’s rubric can be dance. I feel that all who experience the performing arts come away feeling something or learning something. I feel that what the LGBT community strives to represent and cultivate as a whole is a community that engages, inspires and educates. The dance community, overall, has the same agenda, as it continuously gives a platform for all our voices to be heard and all issues to be shared. You can find it more evident in this recent generation of artists, creating works that are politically motivated and sexually charged.”

Come Together runs through July 26 at Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 S. Broad St. For more information, visit www.koreshdance.org/cometogether.php