Henri Matisse conveyed motion with paint and canvas in his 1910 painting La Danse.

Ronen Koresh brought it further to life Thursday night, with the world premiere of La Danse for his Koresh Dance Company at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre. It is a delightful exploration of that painting (and two other variations Matisse made) though a combination of modern dance, ballet, ballroom, and Israeli folk dance.

Matisse often painted dancers (as Philadelphians can see in his triptych mural and Joy of Life painting at the Barnes Foundation), and Koresh explores the motivation behind the artist’s scenes. Who are these dancers? Where are they? What were they doing before and after they were captured in oils?

The result is a suite of dances that moves in and out of the circular formation of the 1910 painting.

Koresh Dance Company in Ronen Koresh's "La Danse," based on Matisse's 1910 painting.
Contigo Photos + Films
Koresh Dance Company in Ronen Koresh's "La Danse," based on Matisse's 1910 painting.

The colors and moods change in every section through Koresh’s choreography and costumes and Peter Jakubowski’s lighting — which “paints” the scenes more than in most ballets, in swashes of reds and blues and streams of white.

Set to original music by John Levis, and with poetry and voice-overs by Karl Mullen — frequent Koresh collaborators — the piece opens with the dancers paired off in a ballroom scene, one they frequently return to in slow dances, tangos, and club settings. Occasionally a man will lift his partner and they briefly freeze in the pose, as though captured on canvas.

Folk dance is said to be the source of Matisse’s painting, and Koresh brushes his La Danse (as he does with most of his work) with rhythmic claps, stomps, and hops, adding rich variety to the movement.

The character of the dance changes from a romantically playful section with Sarah Shaulis and Kevan Sullivan, on the brink of laughing throughout their piece, to the glamour of Paige Devitt in a glittering dress and with a pair of suitors, Micah Geyer and Robert Tyler.

Koresh Dance Company in Ronen Koresh's "La Danse," based on Matisse's 1910 painting.
Contigo Photos + Films
Koresh Dance Company in Ronen Koresh's "La Danse," based on Matisse's 1910 painting.

The women of the company recreate the circular shape of the painting as “Five in the Nude,” but in flesh-colored dresses. One cheesy moment occurs when the last of those women left on the stage removes her dress and flings it aside with abandon — but is still wearing subtle undergarments, committing neither to be nude nor covered.

There are good number of new dancers in the company this year, and all look strong. But my eye is still often drawn to Melissa Rector, who joined Koresh when it launched in 1991, and Fang-Ju Chou Gant, dancing with the company since 1998. In a field where long careers are rare, it’s a joy to see long-established dancers looking as fit and fluid as ever.

DANCE REVIEW

Koresh Dance Company: “La Danse”

The program repeats Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 6 and 10 p.m. at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre. Tickets: $10-$75. Information: 215-985-0420, koreshdance.org