Israeli Director Blends World Dance and Music Into One Vision

Dancer: Krista Montrone
Dancer: Krista Montrone
Photo by Frank Bicking

Ronen Koresh, long a distinguished dancer and since 1991 artistic director of his own company, is fearless in his defiance of borders. Appearing at the Arsht Center this week, the choreography of this Israeli native, now established in Philadelphia, draws from ballet, folk, modern and jazz dance and uses music that ranges from classical to industrial with samplings of world traditions in between.

And the question Koresh's approach prompts is not how such eclecticism can be effective but, given his bracing talent, how it could be otherwise.

"My art highlights my interests, all the beautiful things I come in contact with," says Koresh. "I'm not a snob. I try to connect to the pulse of what's happening right now. That's how I can best add my voice out there in this huge world."

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What an engaging voice it is. Conveyed through peek athleticism as well as the more contained modalities of his 10 dancers, the choreographer's varied inflections add up to a prodigious output. The head of Koresh Dance Company keeps perfect pitch whether in notes of humor or in the darker register of the human condition. As a Jew of Yemenite ancestry -- his grandparents spoke Arabic -- Koresh not only profited from that rich culture but also gained spiritual latitude, learning to cherish differences. Hiring dancers from all over the world -- "we have a regular United Nations in the company," he says -- gives him an unequaled opportunity to expand communication.

Israeli Director Blends World Dance and Music Into One Vision
Koresh Dance Company

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"I don't deal with politics but with the things that draw us together," the choreographer points out. "Where you create dialog, there's progress. I love watching people work out relationships. I don't judge. I show."

Koresh always has an idea of what he's looking for in a dance, but choreography comes into focus in the studio as he works off the energy -- the tension even -- of his performers.

Melissa Rector, company dancer and associate artistic director, appreciates this approach.

"I have flourished here for 24 years," she says. "The challenges and satisfaction of dancing the Koresh rep go hand in hand. Keeping the physical aspect along with the artistry is always a challenge. So if you can successfully execute the two together, it's very satisfying. With Roni's work, there is always room to dive in deeper and make things more precise."

As Koresh puts it, "I'm a designer of movement. I will pick out music and not listen too much to it at first, or something may get lost. Even if you took the music out, the dance should stand on its own."

Yet the choreographer admits that all other elements in a production -- lighting, costumes, sound -- should have individual integrity, contributing to the greater impact of the whole.

His use of light and shadow, in fact, impresses with its painterly effects. And he identifies a piece of music in particular that haunted him for decades. "Ravel's Bolero seems simple but comes at you in amazing ways, so you're never bored," he says. "I considered it for 20 years but only took it on when I had enough maturity as a choreographer. Many others have tackled Bolero, but it has a very personal meaning for me."

As one of his most popular works, Bolero has become a sort of signature. That will close the Miami show, where Koresh is also presenting a compilation of segments from his works in a single piece he considers organic. According to Rector, who remains one of this compendium's most powerful interpreters, the show "opens with a Louis Armstrong section that sets up a journey. We then go into Gates, to get a feel for Roni's background. You will see many duets, some dramatic, eerie, but all very different. Roni's work always shows a sense of humanity -- the truths about life, good and bad."

Enthusiastic about taking his art on the road, despite the physical toll that sometimes takes, Koresh looks forward to the kind of local community outreach (student lecture-demonstrations, addressing synagogues) that strengthens his mission. "When I started," says the artist, "my dances were mostly about me, about being young and cool and sexy. That sort of selfishness changes as you get older and the mind kicks in. You become worldlier and want to put that into the work. You realize creativity is endless."

Koresh Dance Company, Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; tickets $40;

By Guillermo Perez,

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