For many dance companies across the nation, the coming of fall this year brings more than cool breezes and changing leaves. It marks the long-awaited return to the stage that has been dark – the end of an intermission lasting over a year in duration. For companies like Complexions Contemporary Ballet, as the summer swelter fades, the performance season is just heating up.
On Tuesday, November 16, the curtain of the Joyce Theater rose on Complexions Contemporary Ballet, the award-winning dance company known for blending technical ballet foundations, innovative choreography, and mesmerizing feats with artistic expression into a brand of dance uniquely its own. Founded by Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson, Complexions strives to bring fresh perspectives to dance styles steeped in the ballet tradition. With multidimensional performances like this one, it is no surprise that Complexions is blazing a new path in the dance world, one that cannot be confined to a singularity, as portrayed by the diversity of the company.
On display Tuesday night was an electric program filled with power, beauty, and hope. It featured two distinct works, which divided the performance into two acts. Opening the show was Rhoden’s world premiere, “Snatched Back from the Edges.” Originally intended as a dance film, “Snatched Back from the Edges” has been skillfully and artistically remastered for the stage, to connect with people directly. The second act featured “Love Rocks,” a work that was created last year and is making a bold return this season as an audience favorite.
“‘Snatched Back from the Edges’ is meant to be a chronicle of the human spirit with all of its vulnerabilities,” says Rhoden. Set to a soundscape comprised of music by Beethoven, Jon Batiste, Shirley Caesar, Tye Tribbett, Jessye Norman, Le’Andria Johnson, and Aloe Blacc with hauntingly ethereal lighting, Rhoden says that the piece “celebrates the strength and resilience” of humanity. In an enthralling display of human interaction, the work features solos, partnering, and ensemble work, creating layers of movement that build upon and play off of one another. In the piece, Rhoden plays with timing and rhythm, capturing moments of stillness between segments of fast-paced motion. Breathtaking lifts, technical excellence, and abundant expressive capacity take center stage in this new work.
At times, dancers take the stage alone, emphasizing their strengths as individuals. In a solo to an evocative rendition of “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” dancer Larissa Gerszke moves swiftly through sequences of precise and staccato footwork, mixed with a few more contemporary contractions and releases. As her feet still and her upper body contracts at the conclusion of her solo, she is swept off her feet by a fellow dancer. In a particularly captivating duet, dancers Jillian Davis (ABE covergirl Issue 10) and Jarrett Reimers move with ease and fluidity around one another, testing each other’s balance, yet always counterbalancing in support of one another. Each allows the other to move beyond their own capacity, underscoring themes of trust and celebration of the power of people working together. The duet showcases beautifully extended lines – développés and arabesques through fluid transitions – coupled with high levels of control and stability.
With gorgeous long lines and commanding height, the pair exudes a regal quality throughout the diaphanous movement. Fluid as water and as if floating on air, their choreography involves extensions in all directions. As the dancers elongate their limbs gingerly through space, articulating fully through the tips of the toes or fingers, the eye is drawn to the action, following it to its conclusion. Their presence is powerful, yet not overpowering – grounded, yet graceful.
Another section features the partnership between Thomas Dilley and Tatiana Melendez. In contrast to the leisurely extensions of Davis and Reimers, this duet follows a quicker pace with a rapid succession of movement. It is sharp and hard-hitting, and acrobatic in nature. While Davis and Reimers create beautiful lines with their feet on the ground, Dilley and Melendez dance together with intense clarity, slicing through the air with elegant shapes.
The second half of the program was “Love Rocks,” set to music by Lenny Kravitz, “the iconic Grammy Award winning singer, producer and songwriter,” that celebrates Kravitz’ “passionate storytelling through edgy, athletic, and theatrical movement.” In this concert dance meets rock-concert production celebrating music and dance, Rhoden portrays ballet and contemporary like you’ve never seen them. Throughout the piece, the company remains true to its inimitable style basked in fearlessness, edginess, and enchanting allure. The soloist, Tim Stickney, takes us through each vignette with his mature performance and musicality. In one section of “Love Rocks,” several dancers perform feats of great strength as they lift one dancer after another, creating the illusion of soaring through the air. Vincenzo Di Primo completes a pirouette, landing on a dime, before appearing weightless as the other dancers lift him toward the sky. This lift is just one of many in this section, and audience members would do well not to blink or look away and risk missing these glorious moments throughout the work. The dancing is reactive and highly emotive. Movement of one dancer initiates a response from others, leading to an incessant stream of motion and continual exchange of energy.
The works seem to offer a metaphorically cathartic release of energy stored throughout the pandemic in the absence of live performance. The dancing throughout the program is vibrant and electrifying. Davis describes the program as “visceral, raw, physical” and “a roller coaster ride from start to finish.” She hopes audiences will “come and experience the work and let it take you on a ride.” Whether the stage is covered with dancers or singularly occupied, the dancing fills the space and commands attention. Underlying the specifics of each piece is a broader theme of celebration – celebration of the company’s 27-year history, of the return of the performing arts, and of humanity. According to Di Primo, featured in “Love Rocks,” the cast is “hungry to be back on stage again,” noting “there is a bit of adrenaline, too.” Davis also mentions “the adrenaline rush” of performing and explains that “there is nothing quite like the feeling of being onstage in front of the audience.” In her words, “excited is an understatement” to describe how the cast feels about dancing for the public once again. Between the dancers’ attitudes and the energetic nature of the works themselves, the performance delivers a high-energy, provocative, and exhilarating night of dance.
Tonight’s performance reinforced Complexions’ brand as a leader in the world of contemporary ballet. Davis affirms that Rhoden is “always looking forward to the future and what it could be.” With that mindset, the world can only watch as Complexions Contemporary Ballet dances on, with all the strength, grace, boldness, and integrity that the company embodied tonight.
Tonight’s performers also included Emma Branson, Christian Burse, Jacopo Calvo, Brandon Gray, Terrance Matthews, Simon Plant, Zion Pradier, Jasmine Robinson, Miguel Solano, Eriko Sugimura, Candy Tong, and April Watson.
Following the Joyce Theater premiere, the Complexions Contemporary Ballet will grace the stages of Israel, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, South Carolina, New Mexico, Colorado, Florida, California, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Oregon, before wrapping up its tour on the West coast in Washington. Catch them if you can. For a full performance schedule see: https://www.complexionsdance.org/copy-of-performances