Complexions Contemporary Ballet returned to The Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, June 16-18, with two dynamic one act ballets guaranteed to bring the audience to its feet at the evenings’ end. This New York based company with dance icons, Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson at the helm is reinventing ballet. The company is a true manifestation of contemporary ballet complete with contemporary music, sensibilities and extremely athletic theatrical movement that merges classical ballet technique with hip hop and modern dance. It is a company full of artists who commit their hearts to each and every movement. The entire company performed both ballets and when you thought they could not reach further, jump higher, complete more turns, move faster, or lift their legs higher they did…over and over again.

The first act ballet, Woke, described as “a physical reaction to the daily news” was performed to music by Kendrick Lamar, Logic, Drake, Sam Smith, and others. It would have been helpful to have program notes that included at least the words of Kendrick Lamar and Drake and the most pertinent lyrics of the music.

The women command the stage! Their technical virtuosity is undeniable as they strut, bourrée, and slide across the floor to perch on their toes firmly on the box of their pointe shoes. Then there is the matter of their legs that reach to the rafters time and time again. The men are also tremendous technicians with extensions that certainly rivals that of the women. They consistently complete multiple turns that finish in a precarious pose that appear to be frozen in time. It is amazing to watch them complete multiple turns only to reverse direction and fly in the air with a jump in some totally unorthodox position reminiscent of anything but classical ballet.

Complexions Contemporary Ballet in Dwight Rhoden's "Snatched Back From the Edges" - Photo by Karen Tapia/Musco Center

Complexions Contemporary Ballet in Dwight Rhoden’s “Snatched Back From the Edges” – Photo by Karen Tapia/Musco Center

The artists move with their partners, male and female, with a musicality and finesse that is remarkable. Lifts come with no warning and appear to be an extension of movement phrases that are married to the music. Passionate duets and solos were danced with abandonment and commitment to ideas and stories within the longer ballet.

Mr. Rhoden has stated that the ballet reflects a wide array of issues including, LGBTQ rights, gun violence, corporate greed, the #MeToo movement and the activism of today’s generation. This is quite an ambitious undertaking, and it is debatable as to his success in bringing this to fruition. I found myself focused on the technical prowess and artistry of the entire company of dancers.

The second act ballet, Love Rocks, was set to music by Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter, Lenny Kravitz and focused on the universal language of love. Once again, the entire company of artists performed. Beautiful rock-inspired black costumes hug the bodies of this company of toned athletes whose legs and arms seem to go on forever. This is not the company’s first time performing to rock music.  Their last performance at the Music Center featured a tribute to David Bowie. Mr. Rhoden’s choreography is often frantic and filled with hand gestures to punctuate musical accents. It is clear that pure physicality and speed are required of all company members. Duets, trios, solos come and go and do not appear to be connected to one another in any particular way. However, all are performed exceptionally well, regardless of the groupings.

Complexions Contemporary Ballet - Photo courtesy of the artists.

Complexions Contemporary Ballet – Photo courtesy of the artists.

The dancers are such individual stage characters and so eclectic in size, shape, and attitude that the choreography can appear to be more diverse and creative than it actually is. Upon close examination one begins to see complex and difficult movement phrases repeated. The company is at its best when they are performing complicated, fast moving footwork in unison, lifts and partnering, all with precision. The artists manage to fuse swagger, technical prowess and sex appeal. They are strong and yet able to bend and twist like the rock music they are dancing to. In Love Rocks, encounters, emotions, and relationships rule. The ballet reached new heights with the choreography in “Fly Away” and “Calling All Angels.” In an entire company of truly breath-taking artists, it is difficult to identify particular standouts but Thomas Dilley, Christian Burse, April Watson, Joe Gonzalez, and Jillian Davis repeatedly forced me to applaud wildly as they performed the impossible over and over again.

Complexions Contemporary Ballet has remained true to their mission to remove boundaries and “create an open, continually evolving form of dance that reflects the movement of our world and all its constituent cultures as an interrelated whole.”  Diversity is celebrated as demonstrated by a company comprised of artists of varied cultural and dance backgrounds and “complexions.”  Both Love Rocks and Woke are high energy works that engage and excite the audience!

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

To learn more about The Music Center, please visit their website.

Written by Leah Bass-Baylis for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: StarDust – Complexions Contemporary Ballet – Photo courtesy of Hagos Rush