Spring into Performing Arts

Ronen Koresh, artistic director of the Koresh Dance Company of Philadelphia. (Photos provided)
Ronen Koresh (bottom left), artistic director of the Koresh Dance Company of Philadelphia. (Photos provided)

The Jewish community will take an active role in the Baltimore County Dance Celebration, Feb. 1 to March 9, when the Gordon Center of Performing Arts plays host to many events including four major performances, dance workshops, seminars and smaller ensemble and solo performances.

“We are thrilled to shine a spotlight on dance this February with an eclectic array of riveting, hypnotic dance programs,” said Randi Benesch, managing director of the Gordon Center. “From amateur to professional performances, from dance improvisation to hip hop and tap, from modern to jazz to ballet, there is something for everyone and we hope you’ll take a leap with us!”

A series highlight is the Koresh Dance Company of Philadelphia, in residency beginning Feb. 24 and performing on Saturday, Feb. 28. Visiting in partnership with the Baltimore County Public Schools, company members will teach master classes to Baltimore County middle and high school students during their stay.

Koresh artistic director Ronen Koresh, 53, was born and raised in Israel and was first exposed to dance at age 10 thanks to his mother, an Israeli folk dancer and member of a Tel Aviv-based Yemenite folk dance group. Soon Koresh became known as a “street dancer,” dancing at parties and clubs, eventually becoming a student of jazz and ballet. He choreographed his first piece at age 16, with 40 girls who performed the dance at a local soccer field. He later joined Martha Graham’s Batsheva Dance Company, Israel’s premier dance company.

After mandatory army service Koresh immigrated to the U.S. in 1983 and trained with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City. In 1984, he began performing with Shimon Braun’s acclaimed Waves Jazz Dance Company in Philadelphia. Koresh taught at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia in 1985 and was asked to choreograph for an ensemble in 1987.

Koresh, who founded his company in 1991, is not bound by allegiance to any single dance tradition, regularly drawing on modern, jazz and ballet and a range of musical styles to provide audiences a unique and accessible experience.

“We deal a lot with humanity,” said Koresh. “Relationships — person to person, community to community, senses, feelings. We are not too sublime or too abstract. Everything is based in emotion, so you can feel, you can relate to [the dance]. You don’t feel dumb.”

Koresh’s music choice is as eclectic as his choreography.

“We don’t shy away from anything — world music, classical, the mystery of other cultures and languages,” he said. “They trigger the imagination.”

Asya Zlatina has been dancing with the Koresh Dance Company for the past seven years. A Maryland native and Goucher College graduate, Zlatina is looking forward to returning to her home turf. Zlatina, 27, credited Goucher’s dance department with much of her success.

“My teachers invested a lot in me,” she noted.

Zlatina also praised Koresh, who gave her an apprenticeship with the company at age 20, lauding his emphasis on real-life experience and emotional connection, in order to create powerful dance.

“We are always very physical, very emotional,” she explained. “It can be draining because it is about relationships and pieces of our own lives. It is not about fairy-tales. Roni doesn’t do cheesy. He does real life. He is very influenced by his Israeli roots.”

Koresh would likely agree with Zlatina’s analysis.

“In Israel, there is an urgency. We are just trying to survive. Some people think Israelis are rude, but it is just that we are always going to the heart of it, moving forward, dealing with the subject, not going around it,” he said. “Israeli culture has a lot of passion, it is very open, aggressive, in your face.”

Koresh claims that is why Israeli choreographers are at the forefront of modern dance, they straight to the heart. He also believes dance has changed with the times.

“Before, dance was too slow. That’s why a lot of people fell asleep in the 1990s,” he said, pointing to historically diminished ticket sales and the focus dance demands from its audience. But, he added, “they don’t fall asleep in my shows. If anything, they wake you up.”

Amy Herzog (Photo provided)
Amy Herzog (Photo provided)

The Play’s The Thing
In preparation for the spring season, Baltimore’s theater companies unveiled details for their 2015 production schedules. Offerings are diverse and eclectic, with a mix of classic, contemporary, experimental and in some cases, offbeat. And Charm City’s upcoming theatrical season is not lacking in Jewish-themed plays, Jewish actors or directors.

Especially significant is Center Stage’s Amy Herzog Festival. Center Stage’s dramaturge, Gavin Witt, explained the decision to produce two of Herzog’s plays, “After the Revolution” (2010) and “4000 Miles” (2011) this spring. Both plays are based upon the playwright’s own family history, in particular her Jewish Marxist grandparents.

“Amy [Herzog’s plays] very quickly became one of the candidates. Part of it was that [artistic director], Kwame [Kwei-Armah] became interested in introducing Baltimore to an emerging voice in theater,” he said. “Amy just had a surge of productions and performances and her plays suit us. They are rooted enough in psychology, in human relationships but also deal with civic and political issues. That has always been a touchstone for us.”

Witt described how the two family saga plays work well together, even though written in different styles. One is a sweeping epic and the other is an intimate play, featuring a small cast and taking place in one isolated time period. Viewing the two plays, audience members can experience the historical arc of the 20th century from the 1930s, the New Deal, and Jewish left aspiring socialists, and then into the blacklists of the 1950s and the disillusionment of that time. Together, the plays illustrate how much things change and how people experience history differently.

Witt added, “It’s such an interesting kaleidoscope of America.”

Members of Baltimore’s Jewish community will also be pleased by Vagabond Players’ production of “Side by Side by Sondheim,” a beloved musical revue featuring music from legendary Jewish composer, Stephen Sondheim’s most popular shows including “Follies,” “A Little Night Music,” “A Funny Thing Happened,” “West Side Story” and “Gypsy.”

The play is the directorial debut of Pikesville native and Baltimore Hebrew Congregation board member Shannon Wollman, 46, who is also known for her roles in “Evita,” “Funny Girl,” “Next to Normal,” “Gypsy” and many others.

“With age and experience, I’ve gotten a lot of ideas,” said Wollman. “When you’re a performer, you have to quell those ideas, because you are not the director. Finally I said, ‘It’s time to put your money where your mouth is.’ This will teach me if I really love directing or, I might say, ‘Better leave directing to others.’”

Wollman said it’s perfect timing for “Side by Side” because Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” is now in theaters.

“And I love Vagabond, the intimacy of the space,” she concluded. “I’m very excited!”

Emily Hearn (Photo provided)
Emily Hearn (Photo provided)

Fine Tuning
Now in its third season, Eutaw Place is a unique venue that showcases indie singer/songwriters and local talent.

On March 14, Eutaw Place, located in the lower level of the historic Beth Am Synagogue in Reservoir Hill, welcomes Emily Hearn, 24, to its stage. A native of Georgia, Hearn taught herself guitar in her senior year in high school. Her freshman year at the University of Georgia, she began writing songs and has performed professionally for four years. Hearn’s success as a professional musician came as something of a surprise to her.

“When I applied to college I wanted to study journalism,” she said. “But a group of friends at college had a big party every semester and they asked me to play. I got a good reception.”

She said Athens was a welcoming music scene, so she played locally and at nearby college towns, and eventually at bigger regional venues.

Hearn said her music is influenced by indy rock bands, as well as by other women singer/songwriters such as Brandy Carlisle and, naturally, Taylor Swift. She also listens to a lot of jazz, especially the vocal music of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.

About her own music, she said, “It’s a mix of Americana, country but it comes out more pop.”

In 2012, Hearn married musician and songwriter Michael Harrison and now the couple writes and performs together.

“I’m very creative and spacey, my ideas kind of float around — and he’s very focused,” Hearn explained. “I actually enjoy writing with him even more than writing by myself. Before, I mostly wrote about relationships and heartbreak. It was draining to perform [those songs]. Michael brought a male perspective. Now we tackle bigger issues.”

In March 2015, Hearn’s first album, “Hourglass” will be released.

“All the songs are based on growing up and life lessons,” said Hearn. “The title, from a lyric in one of the songs, signifies the passage of time.”

Also performing at Eutaw Place on March 14 is singer/songwriter, Luke Brindley and on Feb. 14, Eutaw Place will feature Tony Lucca in a special Valentine’s Day concert, complete with wine-tasting. April 18, indy/ folk/Americana music duo Dawn & Hawkes help Eutaw Place celebrate its third anniversary.

The Jerusalem Quartet (Felix Broede)
The Jerusalem Quartet (Felix Broede)

Chamber Notes
Chamber music fans will enjoy the Gordon Center’s Winter Chamber Music Series: “From Darkness to Light,” featuring two concerts by the Aura Nova Ensemble that traces the history of Jewish music from the 19th Century to modern times.

On Feb. 8, the ensemble will perform music by Ernest Bloch, Jonathon Leshnoff, Gideon Klein, Gustav Mahler and Dimitri Shostakovich.

“After the formation of the German Weimar Republic following World War I and with the rise of Nazism and later, Stalinism, the political and social clouds in Europe grew ominously dark,” said founder and Aura Nova violinist, Mark Singer. “With the Nazi takeover of the German government in 1933, Jewish participation in musical culture came to a standstill. Those that could, fled, but many others perished, and Continental Europe’s loss was Great Britain, Israel and America’s gain as many musicians found havens in these three countries.”

Other chamber music events include a concert by the internationally renowned Jerusalem Quartet on Feb. 15 at Shriver Hall. The quartet performs Joseph Haydn’s Quartet Op. 74 No. 3 in G Minor, “Rider;” Erwin Schulhoff’s “Five Pieces for String Quartet” and Franz Schubert’s Quartet No. 14 in D Minor “Death and the Maiden.”

An annual favorite, International Guitar Night at the Gordon Center returns Feb. 7, and Israeli pop star, Rami Kleinstein will perform there on March 19.



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