The opening of the Come Together Festival at Suzanne Roberts Theatre on Thursday night showed just four reasons critics consider Philadelphia the country's top dance city (outside the Big Apple). This festival of 27 established and emerging companies spotlights only a sliver of the richness of our dance culture.
World-renowned Rennie Harris Puremovement set the pace with Continuum (1997), for five company members and guest dancers. Battling it out with serial solos in a circle of light, and cheered on by their mates, Dinita Askew and Katia Cruz were jewels in Harris' crown of astonishing dancers. This might look like random improvisation, but when you later see three guys doing the same impossibly difficult and rapid phrases in sync, you realize how well-choreographed it is. Just don't blink.
Meredith Rainey of Carbon Dance reprised his stunning ballet Through the Wake with a few new members. The romantic ballerina this time was Julie Degnan. Fierce Felicia Cruz, who opened like one of the Three Furies, later seemed more high priestess to Degnan's acolyte. The sprightly Anna Noble brought divinity to the trio, and a duet by William Burden and Eiren Shuman caught them in beautiful barrel and stag leaps and then hand-to-hand weight exchanges. A somewhat militaristic ending with all on a diagonal, lifting their knees in a slow march, surprised and pleased.
Junk's Brian Sanders offered four of my favorites - but then, if he'd offered 44 more I'd love them all, too. The bone-crunching duet Dancing Dead drew winces each time the ghoulish couple from the grave (Chelsea Prunty, Miles Yeung) cricked an elbow or knee as they delighted all with their gangly waltz. And I'll never tire of seeing Sanders' classic Swimmer, this time performed by Billy Robinson like the champion he is.
As organizers of the festival, the Koresh Dance Company took the second half for itself, premiering - what else? - Come Together. The first section, "Home," had the full company dressed in white in a sunny, laid-back, sidestepping dance to the cascading melodies of Tel Aviv's Touré-Raichel Collective. "Promised to Another" has Micah Geyer and Shannon Bramham in heartbreaking split-up.
"Heart" shows off Melissa Rector in a slow and deliberate solo until Joe Cotler, in "Union," joins her. In the "Raven" section, Alexis Viator, Eric Bean Jr., Krista Montrone, and Robert Tyler might be biblical lepers dancing in rags.