Complexions Contemporary Ballet will return to Los Angeles with a three night run at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts April 14, 15, and 16, 2022 at 7:30 pm the Bram Goldsmith Theater. This will mark the first time that the company has performed at The Wallis and the program will feature the West Coast premiere of Artistic Director, choreographer Dwight Rhoden’s Snatched Back From the Edges, described by Rhoden as a piece that celebrates the strength and resilience of humanity. Also on the program is StarDust, which premiered in 2016, Complexions will perform its tribute to the life and music of the late pop music and film icon David Bowie. A post-performance talk-back with company members will be held immediately after the opening night performance on April 14. Tickets are on sale now.
Snatched Back From the Edges was choreographed primarily during the Covid pandemic on Zoom, outside in a park by the river, and with one or two dancers in the studio with Rhoden creating a range of solos, duets and ensemble work. As restrictions eased, Rhoden was able to include more company members for in-person rehearsals.
Dwight Rhoden grew up in Dayton, Ohio and, although he did disco style hand dances and hustling and made up elaborate routines for high school competitions, Rhoden did not begin his formal dance training until age 18. At the suggestion of a friend who was a professional dancer saw his talent and directed him to Dayton Contemporary Dance Company (DCDC). Rhoden was captivated by what he saw and loved the structured training. He was obviously talented because he was soon asked to join DCDC’s junior company before moving on the work with their main company.
“To be honest, I never looked back,” Rhoden said during our interview.
Following his time at DCDC, Rhoden moved to Montreal, Canada and toured nationally and internationally with Ballet Jazz de Montreal. After auditioning more than once, at age 23 he was invited to join the Alvin Ailey American Dance Company.
“Ailey was still alive and it was an incredible time to be in the Ailey company,” he said. Rhoden rose through the company ranks very quickly to perform principal roles. “I had an amazing time there,” he added.
Starting, running and maintaining a dance company is very difficult, which Rhoden knew after having been a member of three companies. I asked his what inspired him and Co-founder Desmond Richardson to make that decision?
“We began collaborating while we were in the company (Ailey),” he explained. “We were very close friends and at one time together as a couple.” Rhoden said that because he loved creating movement that he continued to choreograph works for other in addition to performing in the Ailey company. “Desmond and I started to work so much together and we built a language and an idea. We had been at Ailey and he was leaving to go dance with Frankfurt Ballet, with William Forsythe. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. Whether to continue performing or not, but I had been bitten by the choreography bug.”
They both left the Ailey company in 1994 and wanted to gather together their friends, dancers who they respected from around New York and elsewhere to present a one-time project. A few friends offered some funding and Rhoden choreographed an entire evening with professional dancers who were working full time jobs with other companies. They hired dancers from the Joffery Ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem and American Ballet Theatre.
“They would come after their rehearsals and I would make things for them,” He said. “Or, if they had breaks during the day. It was crazy and who knows how it all came together but it did.” And they liked what they saw, especially the diversity of dancers in the concert. “We wanted the lines of modern, contemporary and ballet to be more blurred. We didn’t understand why the borders were so heavy back then.” Rhoden and Richardson both loved many different dance genres and continued to take classes in them, to explore different styles and to work with improvisation.
“Basically, when we brought all those people into the room, made this full evening of dance, looked at the tech rehearsal at Symphony Space on our opening day, we looked at each other and said ‘we have to do something with this. This is incredible.’” Rhoden stated. They love the energy coming off of the stage and seeing a dancer from Lar Lubovitch’s company paired with a ballerina; a concept that is not uncommon now, but at the time was not common then.
When Rhoden first began working on this new work, now titled Snatched Back From the Edges, it was intended to be a film or a series of short films. The company was unable to secure the funding, however. One film, Black Is Beautiful, was released and Rhoden said that it was the inspiration for what Snatched Back From the Edges has become.
“What you will see in L.A. is what I drew out during that time of the pandemic lock down and quarantine,” He said. “All the things that were taking place in the world. Certainly, the virus took center stage, the losses, the sense of being isolated, and we were also dealing with racial inequity – that was brought to the surface.”
He explained that Snatched Back From the Edges is about recovery. How the human spirit recovers and moves forward day to day with not only the daily trials that were so severe during the pandemic but those still facing us from day to day. “I wanted to chronicle the humanity and the strength of the human spirit and how we could move forward through such a challenging time.”
When asked if there was a set, Rhoden told me that the lighting was the set. “The lighting adds a great deal of architecture to the space,” he added. “It’s a very dynamic ballet, fast and slow. Some things are emotional. It’s a charged work that moves along quite quickly and switches gears quite a bit.”
Rhoden choreographed this new work to a wide range of music genres and a soundscape was created by Corey Folta. The composers include Beethoven (classical), Jon Batiste (jazz to pop), Shirley Caesar (gospel), Tye Tribbett (gospel), Jessye Norman (opera), Le’Andria Johnson (gospel, pop), Terrell Lewis (spoken word), and Aloe Blacc (rap).
Because the music involved a wide range of styles, I was curious about Rhoden’s musical selections. “There’s some original work,” he said. “There is some spoken word by Terrell Lewis who is a spoken word artist that I know from the UK who also did the film Black Is Beautiful, it was all his work which spoke to me. Jon Batiste we’re using a show poetesque, he redid a Chopin in the way he does it. With Aloe Blacc we’re doing the future which is where the piece finishes. It is all music that I felt would move the story along and would provide an emotional context to the piece, and a journey that took us on almost a roller coaster ride. I felt that all the music needed to have a sort of texture.”
Rhoden wanted readers to know that Snatched Back From the Edges is a work that is abstract in how it is received and how the dancers deliver the material and how it comes across the footlights. “But there’s a sensation of an emotional connection that I hope the audience is able to feel,” he said. “It is about being on the edge and being able to pull yourself back and to be able to step forward for another day. It is about resiliency and I hope that it will connect with the audiences in L.A. I think that all the time that we had to examine lends itself to us being a lot more serious. There’s a depth to how I approached making this work. It was very important to me to make.”
Rhoden went on to say that having all that time during the pandemic helped him to reflect on life and that it was very necessary for him to be as truthful as he could be during the making of Snatched Back From the Edges. Especially after the previous two years, he did not want to make another work just for the sake of making a ballet but rather he set about hoping to be chronicling what is happening throughout the world and its effects on everyone .
WHAT: Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts Presents COMPLEXIONS CONTEMPORARY BALLET
DWIGHT RHODEN Snatched Back From the Edges (West Coast premiere)
DWIGHT RHODEN StarDust
Thursday, April 14, 2022, 7:30 PM (talk-back immediately follows the performance)
Friday, April 15, 2022, 7:30 PM
Saturday, April 16, 2022, 7:30 PM
Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
Bram Goldsmith Theater
9390 N. Santa Monica Boulevard
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
RUN TIME: Approximately 98 minutes including a 20-minute intermission.
TICKET PRICES AND INFORMATION:
$39-$99 (subject to change)
310-746-4000 (Monday – Friday, 10 am to 6 pm)
310-746-4000 (Monday – Friday, 10 am to 6 pm)
PLEASE NOTE: Due to current health and safety variables, the engagement or select performances are subject to change, postponement or cancellation.
To learn more about Complexions Contemporary Ballet, please visit their website.
To find out more about the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, please visit their website.
Featured image: Dwight Rhoden – Photo courtesy of the artist.