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Unlike many choreographers, Koresh, now 50, didn’t start a company to continue dancing. In fact, he stopped performing onstage in his late 30s. The decision came when he saw many of his students at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, where he has taught since 1986, graduate to no jobs in the dance field. “I decided to create a place for people involved in the arts, primarily dance, to make a living in a respectable way, in a way they deserve to.” Today, the Koresh Dance Company garners acclaim in Philadelphia and beyond, and the dancemaker has been commissioned to create works for companies across the country.
The anniversary performance is a retrospective, including “Facing the Sun” — an ensemble work from 1992 that wrestles with Holocaust themes — plus excerpts from “Standing in Tears,” “Hidden Drives” and “Through the Skin.” Much of his choreography deals with interpersonal issues of abandonment, heartbreak, existential loneliness and the challenges of living in the modern world. Some, like “Evolution,” also on the program, seek to create a new language of movement, in this case to express love and desire. Other Koresh works have drawn on Middle Eastern rhythms from his youth.
While Koresh doesn’t concentrate exclusively on Jewish or Israeli themes, he doesn’t deny that deep cultural connections play a role in his artistic output. “I don’t think you can remove the heritage or the culture you grow up in,” he said. “Everything I do has my Israeli identity in it. We’re taught to think a certain way. We went through struggles that give you an appreciation for everyday life. As Israelis, we like immediate gratification because we know that tomorrow may not be around. When you grow up 18 years knowing you’re going to be in the military one day and who knows, believe me, it changes you as a person.”
He attributes the growing success of Israeli contemporary dance on world stages — from Batsheva and its famed choreographer Ohad Naharin to Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak, Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company and others — to their Israeliness: “The reason why Israelis are very successful in dance is because they’re very direct. It doesn’t take them 10 minutes to get to the point… people respect the idea of directness.”
Israelis like to explore, Koresh adds, by traveling and by experiencing different tastes, ideas and cultures. “When Israelis go to dinner, they like a lot of different things,” he says. “They don’t have just steak and potatoes; they will have the olives and the red salad, the green salad, the yellow salad, this kind of chicken, that meat, and this…. We like to taste so many different flavors. It’s the same when I put something on the stage: I don’t want it to be one specific thing. You are going to see a tapas of a lot of different points of view. It’s a very beautiful show with magnificent dancers that takes you on a journey that you don’t experience every day.”
Lisa Traiger writes about dance for the Washington Post and Dance Magazine, among other publications.