Challenging and surprising, Koresh Dance Company offered a mixed program of “Classic Koresh” to a packed Polsky Hall for Johnson County Community College’s Performing Arts Series, celebrating the company’s 25th anniversary with works choreographed by founder and artistic director Ronen Koresh.
Each half of the program was presented straight through, the lights off between pieces while poetry filled the darkness as connecting fiber. With no explanation or performance notes, this was unexpected and difficult to follow at first, with one piece eliding to the next, though the decision made for a strong juxtaposition of the works by avoiding the delay and mental reset that traditional bows cause. Such as it was, the company offered an athletic, thoughtful display of movement, theatrically presented with deliberate and intuitive lighting design by Peter Jakubowski and Alyssandra Docherty.
The first segment, “23: Deconstructing Mozart,” was a half hour-long work based on a 5 minute piece by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, sampled, layered, extended and reconfigured by Paul D. Miller, aka DJ Spooky, into a mesmerizing mash of piano snippets, beats, synthesized microtones, folk music and pop electronica, along with vocalizations and body percussion from the performers. The choreography, too, used motivic language, the twitchy, jagged, balletic elements broken down and realigned in imaginative variety, especially the sequence of floor work.
A solo from Micah Geyer followed, a muscular display of fragile emotion, pleading, panting, struggling with himself. Two beat-driven pieces, set to original music by Greg Smith, provided an aggressive outlet, the dancers yelling, thumping their chests in “New Philosophies” or raising their fists with a rebellious sneer in “Strange 23/16.”
Starting the second half, another work by Smith featured the full company in “I’m Not Pretty,” the harsh synth beats colored with the stomp of barefooted rhythms.
Though Koresh favored original music for his dances, the more accessible pieces were those created to existing music. A self-consciously goofy “Line Them Up” spoke to the narrow margin of error for absurdity in art, while a series of duets explored human dynamics, from sweet touches and cohesive phrases to rough gestures, slaps and rejection, showing both comfort and sorrow, even playfulness, as with “Air on a String,” based on Johann Sebastian Bach, the two women marching with exaggerated care.
The red-lit languid shimmies to Edith Piaf’s plaintive “La vie en rose” was brief enough to feel like a transition to the final piece, set on Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero.” Intense fog and dramatic backlighting made for a mysterious backdrop as the dancers emerged with each instrumental entry in a strange and awesome evolving phrase of operatic gestures and inventive partnering. The choreography, though delivered with seriousness, had a lightheartedness of deeply embedded mischief, a lively frolic at the end of an intense program.
The dancers finally took bows and allowed for the audience’s pent up applause for a performance of exceptional skill and demanding variety, a satisfying show of emotional exploration and physical discovery.