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Complexions Contemporary Ballet: Program A

This dance troupe’s official flag should have the words “exuberance or die” emblazoned upon it.

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Sergio Arranz in a scene from Complexions Contemporary Ballet’s production of Dwight Rhoden’s “Star Dust,” the ballet tribute to David Bowie (Photo credit: Ani Collier)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

If the Complexions Contemporary Ballet had an official flag, on it would be emblazoned with the words “exuberance or die.”  The troupe, founded by Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson twenty-five years ago, is in the midst of a season at the Joyce Theater where its fireworks have been on display.

Program A showed off two works by Rhoden whose sense of style has become more refined over the years.

The first, “Bach 25 ” in its New York premiere, was a showy display of ballet technique by the fifteen-member troupe whose pale, revealing costumes—always revealing in this company, here designed by Christine Darch—gave ample evidence of the amplitude of technical virtuosity of this motley assemblage of body types who somehow coalesce into a real company.  Dancing to the exquisite music of Johann Sebastian Bach and his less exquisite son, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, the dancers’ combination of energy and fluidity appeared focused and refined.

The opening image of the dancers standing in a line across the front of the stage was a theatrical jolt as the line disintegrated into a stage full of dancers, enhanced by the thrilling lighting of Michael Korsch who singlehandedly kept the different musical sections clear and buoyant.

Shanna Irwin and Jared Bradford in a scene from Complexions Contemporary Ballet’s production of the New York premiere of Dwight Rhoden’s “Bach 25” (Photo credit: Sharen Bradford)

The main theme of “Bach 25” was whiplash movements—turns, dips, leg beats, quick lifts—all spread expertly about the stage:  lines of dancers dissipating into duets or solos, their movements cleverly keyed to the old and the new Bach.

In “Bach 25,” Rhoden doesn’t seem to believe in interspersing some calmness into all the manic activity. He also frustratingly stopped the flow with a faux ending in which the lights went out only to rise on more expertly performed steps.

In “Star Dust,” a 2016 ballet tribute to David Bowie, Rhoden displayed his mordantly campy side in a series of scenes, each devoted to a famous Bowie number, beginning with Brandon Gray leading the company in “Lazarus,” setting the format for the rest of the ballet.  His face streaked with makeup, his hair aglow with color, Gray prowled proudly about the stage mouthing the words that Bowie sang.  He seemed very satisfied with himself.

Craig Dionne, dancing to “Changes” and also lip-synching had a nervous, sexy quality while Jared Allan Brunson seemed totally out of it.  Maxfield Haynes appeared on point having the time of his life strutting about to “Space Oddity.”  In “1984,” Tim Stickney, in a sexy black, see-through outfit, showed off his litheness in sassy walks and poses.

Each dancer got to show off, including the long-limbed Jillian Davis, Shanna Irwin, Miguel Salano and Simon Plant who led “Rock and Roll Suicide.”

Terk Waters and company in a scene from Complexions Contemporary Ballet’s production of Dwight Rhoden’s “Star Dust,” the ballet tribute to David Bowie (Photo credit: Moira Geist)

Bowie’s music, perhaps played too loudly, provided interesting opportunities for Rhoden’s imagination to soar, helped by Darch’s delightfully silly costumes and the dappled makeup and outrageous hairdos.

Rhoden’s grab-bag use of point work, strutting in platform heels, a large selection of hip and arm movements to illuminate the late Bowie’s famous songs sometimes was strained and repetitive, but never less than entertaining.  Rhoden’s showbiz background came through in his use of his dancers as a chorus line. He also had the dancers face down the audience, even resorting to sitting at the edge of the stage and staring.

Korsch’s brilliant lighting again made Rhoden’s steps look terrific.  Korsch also provided the set which included a flamboyant stage-wide golden fringe curtain, an expensively tacky touch, as well as laser-like lighting instruments that nearly blinded the audience!

Complexions has come through two and a half decades, its identity intact and its very individual style, honed by Rhoden and Richardson, making it stand out in the competitive world of ballet.

Complexions Contemporary Ballet: Program A (through March 3, 2019)

The Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-242-0800 or visit http://www.Joyce.org

Running time: one hour and 45 minutes including one intermission

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Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (343 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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