Complexions Contemporary Ballet
January 29, 2020
Artistic Directors: Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson
The Company: Jared Brunson, Jillian Davis, Thomas Dilley, Vincenzo Di Primo, Craig Dionne, Larissa Gerszke, Brandon Gray, Maxfield Haynes, Tatiana Melendez, Khayr Muhammad, Daniela O’Neil, Simon Plant, Miguel Solano, Tim Stickney, Eriko Sugimura, Candy Tong, Megan Yamashita
Apprentice: April Watson
Trainees: Jacopo Calvo, Kaeli Ware, Aidan Wolf
If there is a company with more stamina than Complexions Contemporary Ballet, I haven’t seen them. Everything you’d expect from a world class ballet company- precision, clarity, virtuosity- combines with the fluidity of contemporary dance at dazzling speeds. The sheer amount of high voltage dancing these performers are capable of executing with unwavering exactitude is stunning. Insectile undulations and hard hitting lines materialize at warp speed. Dancers run and slide on and off stage like a driving wind. Bach 25 opens with all 17 dancers in the company cycling through a series of classical ballet port de bras that sparkle like sunlight off crystal. Choreographer and Co-Artistic Director Dwight Rhoden brings to life the flurry of notes in music composed by Johann Sebastian Bach and Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach. A duet in the foreground is highlighted by contrasting yet complimentary solos in the background, creating a prismatic effect. Even the pad de deux in Rhoden’s work are done at dizzying speeds as dancers use weight and momentum to shift into precarious shapes, and there is evident vulnerability and trust in the velocity with which the dancers twine around each other. Surprising moments, women supporting men in promenades and arabesques, and a short gestural solo in silence, are gifts among the inundation of movement. Rare moments of sculptural stillness are exceptionally pleasing.
However, I cannot help but hear the admonition of Doris Humphrey echo in my mind. “All dances are too long.” As Bach 25 unfolds, I wonder if this is the last piece Rhoden is ever going to make. There is a point at which even the strongest, most sensational and beautiful dancing becomes overbearing. Movement phrases packed to the max with steps, dexterity, and momentum attack like bullets and inevitably become a wash. There is only so much the eyes can see and the brain can process before numbness settles in and we begin to miss the point. Or stop caring altogether. Captivating gestures flash by too quickly- an arm poised at an extreme angle behind the head, like a broken wing. They demand attention but are immediately lost in the ceaseless barrage of movement, to a dulling effect.
Similarly full of gorgeous choreography and brilliant execution, Woke, a jazzy, back-lit, hip-hop inspired ballet, opens with the same relentless drive. Even when the music slows down, the dancers do not. Music and movement often do not correlate, perhaps on purpose to create a sense of mental discord, perhaps in service of a more- is-better- mentality. The score, designed by Cory Folta, includes a rap that riffs on the acronym RIP. Rest in Peace, Really I’m Pissed, Rewind it Please. The socially relevant poem admonishes society to wake up and confront racial and political injustices, take action instead of quietly accepting the status quo, and come together to create change. But these heavy themes are merely put on top of the same movement and the two do not connect. There are moments of nuanced suspension and arrest- a sensual hip swivel or syncopated shoulder isolation- but in such a densely packed movement montage, those moments are not enough to satisfy.
For the viewer there is much to appreciate. Jillian Davis’ serpentine power commands attention. Vincenzo Di Primo captivates with a sexy, sultry charm. Each of the twenty dancers in the company bring a unique presence to the stage. However, for the thinker, much is lacking. A company boasting impressive ethnic diversity is anything but diverse in its choreography, at a great disservice to the dancers it employs. Rhoden hailed as “one of the most sought after choreographers of the day” by the New York Times, has continually been criticized for the lack of divergence in his work. The power and stature he possesses to not only build a company of this magnitude, but to survive in a highly competitive field without artistic evolution, is telling. Had Rhoden not already been who he was as a dancer, an immense talent with a prestigious career in the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater among other world class companies, would Complexions Contemporary Ballet currently be enjoying the same prominence? It is a moot yet interesting question. Which begs other questions. As an artist, while able and certainly entitled to ignore criticism, is that always a beneficial choice for the work you make? Where is the balance between the outward trappings of success and the inner drive to evolve your craft?