March 25, 2003 – The Koresh Dance Company is coming to St. Thomas this weekend from Philadelphia, but its roots reach much farther away and are entwined much closer to home.
Founder and artistic director Ronen Koresh and his brother, Alon, the company's executive director, were born and raised in Israel, and their family is from Yemen.
And one of the company's eight dancers on this tour is Alexander E. Simon, who was born and raised on St. Croix.
Koresh Dance will perform Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Reichhold Center for the Arts as the theater's final off-island presentation of the 2002-03 subscription season. On Friday at 5 p.m., Simon will conduct a master class for dance students, also at the Reichhold. (For an interview with Simon, see "Dance is a calling for St. Croix's Alex Simon".)
The company, founded by "Roni" Koresh in 1991, incorporates jazz, modern, ballet and ethnic dance in its contemporary repertoire. Koresh has choreographed most of the pieces. "I enjoy creating new works!" he says. His philosophy is that "dance should combine reality with fantasy and inspire audiences to think. Dance should motivate audiences to listen to their emotions and make steps to connect to what those emotions truly are."
Dance — and all of art — "is meant to direct people in their own lives," he says. "I hope it inspires people to do great things through their actions."
As to whether dance can, or should, make political statements, Koresh answers: "Artists reflect their time. We do not judge; we represent the scenarios, so that audiences can judge and be swayed to be honest in life and its complexity."
He describes the six works to be danced on Saturday:
"Ancient Future" — "a journey through the evolution of dance from the ritual to the contemporary concert dance."
"Urban Crisis" — "a mirrored reflection of our inner-city neighborhoods and their wars."
"Sequel" — "a never-ending struggle in our journey in life to continue."
"Underwater Study No. 5" — "defying gravity."
"Grith" — "overcoming your own fears and internal battles."
"Backtracks" — "representing all reasons why I love to dance!"
Collectively, the pieces comprise a full-length work called "Past, Present and Future."
Koresh Dance Company has been hailed in its hometown — always a good sign — by The Philadelphia Weekly for its "technical knockouts" and "dance that engulfs like a brush fire."
And the online Philadelphia citypaper.net in a review speculated that Roni Koresh "must work his dancers hard. They show it when they're arrayed on stage even before the first count of the dance falls: the long, lean musculature, something taut and light in the posture. They show it in the precision with which they execute the demanding ballet moves woven into often feverishly fast-paced dance. The pique turns really prick the floor. The tour jets have height and flash to them. The 6 o'clocks (dancer on one leg lifts other leg to the back then straight up, like the hands of the clock when it's 6) are really 6 o'clocks, not good-enough 10-after-6's."
While the stars of the company "have a certain ignition factor on stage," the reviewer wrote, "there's not a weak link in the 13-member troupe."
The writer referred to Koresh's choreography as drawing heavily on "speeded-up ballet … with everything thrown in from jazz, hip-hop, maybe a little belly dancing, to the angular, ritualistic movement of Martha Graham."
A wide world of dance
The first exposure to dance that Koresh had was Yemenite folk dancing. "My family is Yemen," he says. "Everyone dances in my culture. It was part of our society as a family, as a people as a culture."
What motivated him to start studying traditional dance as a teen-ager was "a dare by a friend" who challenged him: "What, are you afraid they'll think you're bad?" He enrolled in jazz classes, and "I did great … and I feel it defined me as a person at the age of 15. I then began to take ballet and modern dance."
His modern dance training was in the Martha Graham Technique, and at the age of 16 he was invited to be in the Martha Graham Bat-Sheva Dance Company in Tel Aviv. "I joined so I could dance more," he said. "To dance as much as possible was all I cared for at that time in my life."
On reflection, he says, "I feel as if joining the company gave me more focus and made me feel special to be part of such a committed group of people. This, in turn, made me feel committed to being great."
Fortunately, he recalls, "my parents loved the idea of me getting into the arts. My father pushed me to continue and stay dedicated to my commitment to dance."
He arrived in New York at the age of 21 to study with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and was soon asked to join Philadelphia's jazz dance company Waves. He continued to train and perform throughout the 1980s but also began focusing on choreography and teaching. In 1986 he joined the faculty of the Philadelphia University of the Arts, and he continues to teach there, as well as at the Koresh Dance Center.
In considering new members for his own company, he says, "I bring in people who have honesty and truth in their work," truth that "is expressed in very unique style. Not huge statements that are overblown, but just the simple truth."
As to why he ended up putting his own roots down in Philadelphia, Koresh, now 41 and a U.S. citizen, cites both emotional and practical considerations: "Philadelphia is a city which I love. I need a place where I feel comfortable to create work, and this city offers that." But also, "I am able to afford my own space, my own school, and to afford creating my own work without that many financial struggles as if I were to be in New York City."
This will be Koresh's first visit to the Caribbean, but he says that as a choreographer "I'm sure I've been influenced" by the region "due to the fact that I am influenced by many different cultures and customs. I am like a sponge; I absorb different influences through food, clothes, people and music, along with the societies I have experienced."
Tickets to Saturday night's show at the Reichhold Center for the Arts are $35 in the covered section and $25 and $15 in the open-air seating. They are being sold in advance at the Reichhold box office, both Modern Music shops, Parrot Fish Music and Crystal and Gifts Galore on St. Thomas; and at Connections on St. John. They also may be purchased with a charge card by calling the box office, 693-1559, or online at the Reichhold Center. Web site.
For the master class on Friday, Koresh says, Simon will "show what technique we use to train and what the style of our company has come to be." Students will get exposure to sections of pieces that will be performed on Saturday with an orientation to Koresh's choreographic style. The class is open to both experienced dance students and beginners, and to adults as well as young people, and there's no limit on class size and no charge. All those wishing to take part need to do is call the Reichhold box office at 693-1559 by 4 p.m. Wednesday to register.
Those wishing to travel to St. Thomas from St. Croix can take advantage of packages put together by the Reichhold, Seaborne Airlines and several participating St. Thomas hotels. See "Packages
available to see Koresh at Reichhold".)
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