Complexions Contemporary Ballet opened its 28th season at Chapman University’s Musco Center for the Arts. Complexions was founded in 1994 by friends, former Ailey colleagues, and Co-Artistic Directors Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson. The evening featured two works by Rhoden, Principal Choreographer for the company: “Hissy Fits (2006)” and “Snatched Back From the Edges (2021).”
The cast for the evening’s program featured Bilgude Ariunbold, Christine Burse, Jacopo Calvo, Kobe Atwood Courtney, Jasmine Heart Cruz, Jillian Davis, Vincenzo Di Primo, Thomas Dilley, Joe González, Harrison Knostman, MaryAnn Massa, Marissa Mattingly, Tatiana Melendez, Keith Reeves, Miguel Solano, Lucy Stewart, and April Watson. Absent from the night’s performance were Thomas Dilley (who suffered a back injury earlier that day) and Candy Tong (who is on a leave of absence).
As the house lights go down, the curtain for “Hissy Fits” raises to reveal a horizontal line of dancers holding hands. A row of small circular lights hangs in the backdrop above the dancers, their bodies silhouetted. Light particles swirl around them, illuminating them just enough to reveal the contours of these athletes’ incredibly chiseled physiques. They look as if the specimens from the Bodies Exhibit are having a “Night at the Museum” experience and we all get to watch. It is a stunning image.
“Hissy Fits” involves an array of compositions from Johann Sebastian Bach. As Bach’s first piece fills the space, the dancers advance forward with a simple phrase repeated three times: Step, step, collapse right, collapse left. With each repetition, the line disintegrates—first leaving two dancers behind standing tall and firm to finally reveal four couples who exit the stage, again leaving behind the first two dancers. In unison, the duet proceeds to carve out and pierce through the space with the idiosyncratic athleticism so characteristic of Rhoden’s work.
The visual display is a beautiful partnership between Costume Designer Christine Darch, who dresses the dancers in flesh-tone, muscle revealing garments, and Lighting Designer Michael Korsch, whose gorgeous lighting provides a beautiful frame for the movement and brings the stage to life. This aesthetic is the tone for the evening. Their combined simplicity is an elegant choice that allows the dance to speak for itself. And speak it does. “Hissy Fits” goes on to present a parade of gorgeously constructed and exquisitely executed pas de deux, which are with occasional deviations into varying groupings that lead back to more phenomenal pas de deux.
The second piece “Snatched Back From the Edges,” presents a wonderful contrast to the sleek and exact “Hissy Fits.” Still in Rhoden’s dense and athletically supple style, “Snatched Back” punches forward with irreverence to the eclectic backdrop of composers including Tye Tribbett, Jon Batiste, Shirley Caesar, and Martin L. Gore, along with contributions from Sound Designer Corey Folta. Where “Hissy Fits” consists mainly of intimate couplings in confined spaces, “Snatched Back” takes over the whole stage with dynamic changes between groupings coming from all sides. There is a palpable difference in the dancers who have a message to deliver.
Dwight Rhoden is a magnificent craftsman and his company features a roster of artists of impeccable caliber. His movement design is dense and multifaceted, specific and exact. There is so much yumminess to explore and unpack in his creations. It will be a pleasure to see what he continues to bring to the Contemporary Ballet vernacular.
To learn more about Complexions Contemporary Ballet, please visit their website.
To find out more about what is happening at The Musco Center for the Arts, please visit their website.
Written by Marlita Hill for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Complexions Contemporary Ballet in Dwight Rhoden’s “Hissy Fits” – Photo by Karen Tapia/Musco Center for the Arts