Fast approaching its 30th anniversary, Complexions Contemporary Ballet displayed works from 2006 to 2023 from its repertoire, and an excerpt from a larger piece to be premiered this November at The Joyce Theater in New Your City. The first act consisted of five works throughout that time period and all by principal choreographer Dwight Rhoden. The second act was dedicated to a single work, ‘Endgame/Love One’ (2022) choreographed by both Rhoden and Desmond Richardson.

Let it be said at the outset that this company of dancers is highly trained, well-rehearsed, and extremely capable in terms of the physical demands of Classical Ballet coupled with the techniques of Modern Dance. They are all accomplished and engaging performers given the constraints of their choreography. They are all beautiful bodies whose anatomical fluidity is a joy to watch. They are precise and deliberate in their movement and clean in their execution.

Complexions Contemporary Ballet in Dwight Rhoden's "Hissy Fits" - Photo by Karen Tapia/Musco Center for the Arts

Complexions Contemporary Ballet in Dwight Rhoden’s “Hissy Fits” – Photo by Karen Tapia

The first piece on the program was ‘Hissy Fits’ (plural) which certainly lived up to its name. The curtain opened to the company spread out in a line across center stage backlit by overhead specials along the last electric. It was a stunning visual and immediately commands the attention of the audience as the dancers slowly made their way downstage. The lighting look we became used to as it was utilized in every piece on the program save one. The lighting by Michael Korsch was very bold and dramatic at first but unfortunately, lost its power to amaze as the evening wore on. The movement was precise, hard-edged, and unceasing. ‘Hissy Fits’ had a ‘wow!’ factor in the very onslaught of port-de-bras in never-ending combinations but the dancers were always in control and should be lauded for that.

Next was a solo for the statuesque Jillian Davis entitled ‘Elegy’ 2020. No doubt this is as slow and contemplative that Mr. Rhoden gets as demonstrated in the rest of the program. The music was Beethoven’s ‘Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp Minor. Op. 27 No. 2 ‘Moonlight’, performed by Arthur Rubinstein. Davis is a focused and compelling performer with an arresting extension which she uses to great effect. However, I could not help seeing a female Praying Mantis searching for her mate in order to cannibalize his head, such were her sharp and cutting movements cropped into pieces countering the softness and luxury of the music. Again, the flurry of choreography never let the eye settle long enough to take in whatever emotion it was supposed to evoke. Was it riveting? Yes, if only for the suspense of waiting for some hapless male to wander in and meet his doom.

Complexions Contemporary Ballet - Featured: Jillian Davis - Photo by Rachel Neville

Complexions Contemporary Ballet – Featured: Jillian Davis – Photo by Rachel Neville

Third on the program was ‘Pocket Symphony’ 2023, a sextet with many trios and duets. This continued the flurry of arms and legs and torso contractions over rond-de-jambe to arabesque that defined the evening. Was this movement beautiful? Absolutely, seeing those bodies move to that degree at that pace was engaging. However, something must be said for content and emotion. What was the piece about? Beats me. One becomes lost in the sheer athleticism of the choreography and finally, exhausted.

‘Untitled’ was a section of a larger piece to be premiered at the Joyce Theater. The lighting here by Joseph Walls was intense and gorgeous, constructed with a surgeon’s scalpel. The saturated gels made a square boundary within which the company danced and it enhanced their movement by doing so. The music was by U2 and some duets were featured. It would seem that Complexions is the ‘Home of the Pointe-Shoe Sliders’ as this particular move was on display throughout the evening. It happens when the persons on pointe are partnered into a slide across an expanse of stage while on pointe in second or fourth position. They also did this move without a partner which is dicey due to the torque on the ankle while sliding the box of the shoe across the floor. One needs very strong legs and ankles for this. It could break an ankle if caught on an uneven piece of tape. It was a ‘cool’ move and we certainly saw it enough times to comprehend its difficulty. What did it have to do with the pieces it was in? I have no idea other than to make the audience gasp in appreciation.

Complexions Contemporary Ballet - (L-R) April Watson, Jacapo Calvo, and Zion Pradier in Dwight Rhoden's "Snatched Back From The Edges" - Photo by Kevin Parry

Complexions Contemporary Ballet – (L-R) April Watson, Jacapo Calvo, and Zion Pradier in Dwight Rhoden’s “Snatched Back From The Edges” – Photo by Kevin Parry

Last before intermission was ‘Snatched Back from the Edges’ 2021 to the music ‘Work it out’ by Tye Tribbett.  The program notes state it was inspired by the ‘pain, tenacity, and advocacy for change’ that the Pandemic presented. By now it was obvious that I had seen the entirety of Mr. Rhoden’s choreographic output. Truly by the middle of this piece I actually thought that the entire first act could have been one piece. The only clue to the contrary was that the costumes changed for the various titles, the choreography did not.

The costumes by Christine Darch were well-done and entirely suitable for the full-bodied movement required in each piece. The pain, tenacity, and advocacy for change inherent in this piece was lost behind the demands of the choreography. Full-bodied movement is not synonymous with emotion. It can be, but often is not. No elation or pain, longing or disappointment came through the range of movement the dancers were made to perform. Much in the same way that a floor tumbling routine in Gymnastics does not elicit tears of joy, pain or elation. It is a well-rehearsed sequence of movements. It can be artistic but often is entirely athletic. Whacking a leg up over one’s head can mean many things. Without a clear context or facial expression to accompany said movement it remains for the audience to provide one.

The second act had the added effect of Desmond Richardson as assistant choreographer. The curtain opened on ‘Endgame/Love One’ 2022, to the company all dressed out in fabulous sequined disco wear and all dancing solo movements at once, as if at The Limelight or Studio 54 in its’ heyday. The program notes say this piece is about love and survival and infinite possibilities. I am assuming that refers to human relationships and not just arms and legs and how high one can kick or raise them. There were 8 movements to this piece with no difference between the feeling and movements from one to the other. It was as if the choreography throughout the entire evening was set on volume 10 and repeat ad nauseam. ‘Relentless’ is the only word that describes it. Relentless port-de-bras- on top of relentless swirling rond de jambes, pirouettes, contractions and grand battements all to different music without different feeling or nuance. Subtlety is a concept unknown to this company and hopefully in the future may be embraced as a frontier hitherto unexplored.

Be that as it may, the Segerstrom Center was near capacity and the audience loved every minute of this concert. There was whooping and hollering after each piece and the aforementioned Pointe-Shoe Sliders elicited howls of astonished appreciation from the audience. This Company is known and loved, anticipated and celebrated, and should be for its strength and stamina. However, there are other aspects to the Art of dancing such as subtlety, nuance, gesture, softness, emotional vulnerability, as well as the full range of acting possibilities inherent in the human condition. One hopes that these aspects may be added to the choreographers’ vocabulary in a future ripe for this energetic Company.

For more information on Complexions Contemporary Ballet, please visit their website.

For more information on The Segerstrom Center, please visit their website.

Written by Brian Fretté for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Complexions Contemporary Ballet in Dwight Rhoden’s “Hissy Fits” – Photo by Karen Tapia