Former Alvin Ailey principal dancers Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson peeled off and opened their own contemporary ballet company – Complexions. Through this platform, they wanted to push boundaries and redefine the societal conventions of the dance world.
One of the most incredible aspects of this company is the diversity of the ensemble, both physically and stylistically. Rhoden’s choreography both reels their unified movements in as frequently as he draw them out, and it is always incredibly interesting to watch the stage pictures he creates among all different, though all ultra-fit, body types.
Arguably the most ambitious piece of the set, this 45 minute piece was challenging to follow from start to finish. Dissonant in mood and tone, from the sharpness of Bach’s violins to the abruptness of the dancer’s movements, this was an interesting piece to select as the pinnacle of this performance. Costumes resembled Renaissance loincloths, and only one of the fourteen people on the stage even remotely looked like she was having a good time.
The playbill described this as “bold and emotionally sprawling, Ballad Unto is a representation of an intimate abstraction of love,” but to me it seemed disjointed, jarring and unconvincing. Though I was initially taken by the lighting, the use of depth on the stage, the constant movement of the ensemble, 15 minutes in I found myself wondering if it would be inappropriate to take my shoes off in the theater as it seemed we were going to be here for a while. I kept them on, regrettably, while I pondered if the lack of regimented discipline on stage was intentional or just sloppy. The staggered sequencing was always a few seconds apart and merely alluded to synchronization, though I arrived at the conclusion that this must have been on purpose. The fact that this was a question I considered for at least seven minutes left me unsettled.
Ballad Unto also brought to mind the artful stereotypes brought to life by musicals like A Chorus Line, where the ensemble is meant to move as one succinct unit, without any one individual pulling the eye of the audience. It took much restraint not to cry out, “Don’t pop the head, Cassie,” but alas, those loin cloths aren’t going to twirl themselves.
Cryin’ to Cry Out
Nothing soothes a weary soul quite like Ella Fitzgerald, and this deftly choreographed piece exhibits two different couples in the early stages of love. Flirtation, butterflies, hair tossing and foot popping abound as the dancers swayed back and forth to the heart wrenching tones of Ella’s jazzy, earthy heartbreak. I found myself itching to know more, how did these people meet? How long have they been dating? Will they make it in this tumultuous, option laden world of dating? Instead I accepted the story as told by the extension of the arms, the lifting of the legs, and the playful exchange of the pas de deux.
Choreographed by the world renowned William Forsythe, watching this piece made me feel as though I was left out of an important element of an inside joke. Alternating fierce commitment to movement with casual body language intimating a rehearsal, this piece was particularly jarring when the dancers began to mutter under their breath to each other, just audibly enough to thoroughly flummox the audience. The height and lines and execution of both members of this pas de deux beautifully illuminate the rehearsal process, but at what cost?
Desmond Richardson is a sight for sore eyes on this stage. His resume is as long as both my legs and his talent is right in line with it. He somehow manages to expertly breathe life into choreography that feels stale and redundant, even when the phrasing is muddled his execution is sharp and crystal clear.
Based on the body of work of the music of Metallica, Strum is a futuristic interpretation of anarchy, weaving in and out of the state of riots and anti-establishment rhetoric, but it feels forced, false, and ultimately disappointing. If only the head banging was anchored in a true disdain for authority instead of just the implication of it.
Twisted Talk: When was the last time you went to see a dance performance? Have you ever seen Complexions perform before? Discuss below!