It should have been more special.

The eight dancers of the Philadelphia-based Koresh Dance Company are gorgeous. They throw their whole bodies into the movement with power, flexibility and emotion.

What's more, Thursday's opening-night performance at the Annenberg Center's Zellerbach Theatre featured three world premieres: two by artistic director Ronen Koresh, the third by Robert Battle.

But the audience was sparse; the Annenberg performances were late additions to the schedule. And the premieres had mixed success.

My favorite piece on the program was Battle's almost-self-titled work, "Embattled." A jazzy, athletic dance set to a mostly percussion score, much of it was performed in two parallel lines - perhaps in military formations. Each dancer broke out into an African-inspired solo, with shimmies, isolations and turns at a frenetic pace. In the end, all were back in line, dancing a sort of march.

The evening's program was called Hidden Drives, after Koresh's new work of the same name. Set to many different pieces of music and spoken text, the dance opened with individuals and small groups crossing paths. A woman played "he loves me, he loves me not" with a flower. Two women waited for a bus. A couple walked across the stage arguing.

In smaller group sections, the women and then the men blended together anonymously. They danced the same steps - a mix of modern, ballet and bits of Israeli folk dance - over and over, sighing audibly and contracting violently. "Lost in a series of hidden drives," a voiceover said. "Which one do I take?"

Some of the group parts went on too long. The best sections were those that had some character: A trio for Christina Bodie, Jessica Daley and Michael Velez on a bench was a witty interlude. A duet for Alexandra Gherchman and Jon Kennette had them dressed as clowns. The full company finale made clever use of rolling suitcases.

The program also included the premiere of "Darkness Dancing to Pieces," which might have been more interesting on another program. Here, it just felt like more of the same - a continuation of the women's anguished sections from "Hidden Drives."

With fabulous dancers - I especially admired Velez and Fang-Ju Chou Gant - and three new pieces, the evening should have taken on a more celebratory mode. A different mix of dances would have given Koresh's company more opportunities to shine.

Contact writer Ellen Dunkel at