Koresh Dance Company Returns to the JCC

Photo by Stephanie Ramones

When Koresh Dance Company brings La Danse to the Kaplan Theatre at the Evelyn Rubinstein JCC on February 19, choreographer and artistic director Ronen Koresh brings along a personal history with the dance’s inspiration, Henri Matisse’s painting of the same name.

“I had a poster of it in my bedroom as a kid,” says Koresh. “I thought it was just beautiful, the colors and such, but I didn’t pay a lot of attention to it.” Fast forward through four decades of dancing and the painting caught his attention again. Koresh read up on the painting and its history. This famous image of five people, holding hands in a circle and dancing had been painted by Matisse three times, first as a small background detail in a large painting called Le bonheur de vivre. He painted the image two more times, each called La Danse, as its own subject, with similar figures and postures but in different colors. “I was looking at it very carefully,” Koresh continues, “and what I discovered was amazing. Because I’m a dancer and I look at bodies and bodies express so much, I saw a representation of so many emotions. Strength. Pain. Exhaustion. One is almost collapsed and not holding on.”

As Koresh started to develop his own interpretations of these figures, he realized he saw the pain and helplessness in some figures. “And yet they are dancing,” he says. “Joy is understandable. People always think of dance as an expression of joy, but for me, always, dance was an expression of pain. It was a way for me to express all of what I was feeling in movement. It was therapeutic for me.”

These insights led him to think about the people in the painting, about the stories they could tell us. “So, I created this work that has joy and pain and resilience and intimacy.” Almost as soon as he shares this, Koresh offers a caveat. “There’s also a lot of hidden things under the surface. I try not to rob the audience of their own interpretation of what they see. I leave things a little open for the audience to take something with them when they leave.”

Photo by Stephanie Ramones

La Danse was created before the Covid-19 pandemic. The company had already started touring with the piece and then, of course, all performances came to a halt. Given the themes Koresh outlined, the question comes up: what was it like to return to it after the shutdown? 

The short answer was that the dancers didn’t want to take for granted what they had before the pandemic. “I can see them in rehearsals, how hard they work, how dedicated they are, knowing that even now, at any given moment, it could stop,” Koresh says. “They’ve matured, in two years, so much. I think we all have.”

In addition to La Danse, the program on the 19th will include Wet Stones, a piece that will be performed by student dancers from Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. He sent one of his dancers to set the piece on the young dancers and he’s seen video of the piece. “They’re wonderful!” Koresh exclaims.

Additionally, the JCC engaged Koresh to lead their Emerging Artist Mentorship program, where Ronen Koresh will work with eight young choreographers to develop new work. While this program will culminate in a performance at a later date, Koresh spoke enthusiastically about the process. “Young choreographers, like I was, are so scared,” he says with the understanding of experience. “Is it good enough? What if the audience doesn’t like it? So, my job is to ease their anxieties and get them to focus on what they really want to do and say.” Even as he sees himself as the calming influence for these young dance makers, he makes a confession. “I don’t think it ever goes away. You just learn that you’ve done it once, you’ll do it again. Even at my age, I’ve choreographed hundreds of works and I’m nervous every time I go in the room. But then you get inspired by the people and the process and things just start to happen.”

Photo by Stephanie Ramones

With his own training and experience, from his youth in Israel to life as a professional in the United States, Ronen Koresh can name legends like jazz great Luigi and modern masters like Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey as teachers and influences. He also is at a point in his career where he can look to his years as teacher and company artistic director and see his influence in dancers who have gone on from his studio to become choreographers themselves. “It’s interesting,” he says, “sometimes I’ll go see performances and I can see some of my influences in their work and I love it, I think it’s wonderful. I don’t think of it as ‘oh they stole my choreography.’ No, I’m happy!” 

For tickets to see the Koresh Dance Company, either in person at the theater or from home live streamed, visit the Evelyn Rubenstein JCC website

About the Author

Neil Ellis Orts is a writer and performer, living in Houston. Visit him online at neilellisorts.com.

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