New York is experiencing a homecoming as theaters of all sizes fill with patrons eager to return to the unparalleled shared experience of live entertainment. Broadway (and Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway) is back, touring is resuming, and companies are planning and performing new repertoire offerings.
In the dance world, the homecoming that I have been waiting for the most is the return of Complexions Contemporary Ballet at the Joyce Theater for its 27th season, from November 16 to 28. The race includes the world premiere of a new work, EDGE RULES, a series of dances conceived and developed at the height of the tensions of 2020.
Originally conceived as an episodic dance film, this is the first time that the pieces will be performed in front of an audience during the first week of performances (Program A). Program B, called Really madly deep, presents a sequel of Complexions’ “greatest hits”, including selections from STOPPED and Elegy, a dedication to dance inspired by the late mothers of co-founders / co-choreographers Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson. The second act of both shows celebrates the joy and love with last season’s high-speed sex appeal LOVE ROCKS, powered by songs from GRAMMY-winning singer, producer and songwriter Lenny Kravitz. (Read my 2020 review of LOVE ROCKS here)
The choreography of EDGE RULES is the physical manifestation of the intense emotions that weigh on Rhoden’s mind and heart during the pandemic; worry, loss, loneliness and the desire to connect. The musical choices are overwhelming and haunting, opening with “Fear” by Terrel Lewis which transports viewers into the paralysis of uncertainties from March 2020.
Like STOPPED progresses, the pieces replay the moments of 2020 which danced on the world stage when the theaters (our communal centers) were closed. The issues of gun violence, racial inequality and social strife enter the choreography and ambiance through the movements and the music, but they are subtle and not on the nose. We know he’s inspired by the events of 2020 because we’ve all been through them and the feelings are still raw. But those concerns weren’t new and didn’t magically disappear either, so STOPPED serves both as a time capsule for a particular period and as a timeless work.
I had the chance to attend the technical rehearsal on the opening day of the show. Watching the process is a special treat! During four hours spent grasping cues and correcting minor flaws, the dancers don’t do everything as they do in the performance, but are still fascinating to watch. Equally exciting is seeing choreographer Desmond Richardson and company rehearsal director and coach Clifford Willimas take the stage to make some adjustments. A small gesture from Richardson is dynamic and expressive magic. The mark of a master.
I have to speak briefly with RETURN ORDER choreographer Dwight Rhoden during the pre-opening rehearsal. With the air of a man tired by sleepless nights, he confides: “It was really hard. We have lost dancers. People moved, they changed careers, but we also gained some wonderful new members. , but I still have something to say, so I continue. “Indeed, perhaps the most notable element of the company and the choreography of Complexions is the articulation. The movement, the moods, the music ; everything is incredibly articulate and says a lot without saying a word.
Whether we recognize it or not, everyone suffers from residual PTSD from the events of the past 20 months. It’s hard to process and express in words, but if you can’t say it sing it, and if you can’t sing it, dance it. Corn STOPPED is not a sad reminder of a problematic period in history. It offers a real sense of hope and strength through vulnerability and working together towards a common goal of advocating for positive change. STOPPED begins with thorny tension and ends with rapturous faith.
Elements of social dance, hip-hop grooves, razor-sharp angles and form-fitting styles fit perfectly into the choreography, but don’t confuse it with fusion dance. All of Rhoden’s choreography is firmly anchored in ballet and contemporary dance. Flawless technique with a sharp edge. Think of the masters of modern and contemporary art. They had to master the fundamentals before breaking the mold and creating new shapes.
Christine Darch’s costumes are graciously revealing. Not only do the dancers have a physique that the marble gods would envy, but they play with all nerves; you don’t want it to be obscured by fabric. The sculptural aspect is further enhanced by the lighting of Michael Korrsch. From a dark and smoky scene, he paints the bodies of the dancers with reflections of warm or cold tones creating a planed aspect. The sensory experience is complemented by Corey Folta’s sound design that envelops the audience in moody music.
Complexions is a company of dancers, moving as a single organism made up of different parts, all of which are essential and put their special moment in the spotlight. But I would do well not to mention a few strengths, especially those new to the professional business.
Among the women, the superstar is the tall redhead Jillian Davis. Even in rehearsal during downtime, she was ready like a tiger ready to pounce. Larissa Gerszke’s technique and soul bring a quality of warmth to every movement she makes. Newcomers Aidan Wolf, Emma Branson and April Watson are one to watch.
For men, Complexions seasoned dancers Tim Stickney, Simon Plant and Brandon Gray best epitomize the powerful athleticism and bravado the company is famous for. While only in their second and third seasons, respectively, Vincenzo Di Primo and Thomas Dilley have demonstrated remarkable solo and partnership skills. But the price of the partnership goes to Jarret Reimers. His towering height allows him to pair wonderfully with Jillian Davis, and he also has great chemistry with the smaller dancers. The dancer of the first season, Zion Pradier, shows real potential.
Watching Complexions after a hiatus during the pandemic break, I wondered why this particular company meant so much to me and why this was the dance company I most wanted to see when I returned. While watching STOPPED, it hit me; Complexions is the preeminent contemporary American dance company. The choreography, the choices, the dancers and the collaborators are diverse, raw, vulnerable, honest, emotional, proud, a little haughty and full of attitude. Music and movement tell the truth of humanity and the concerns of today. In this regard, Complexions is unprecedented and decidedly entirely American.
After seeing several world premieres and repertoire favorites, I concluded that while they can dance well to classical music like Bach or Beethoven, when the music is contemporary, speaking directly to the issues of the present, the choreography and the company come to life in a different way. path. It is as if their souls are on fire, and they have to express the sensation through every muscle in their body until the energy shoots out of their fingers and toes like lightning.
I had last seen Complexions at the Joyce in early February 2020 for the premiere of LOVE ROCKS, before the world turns upside down. The company’s extraordinary athletic prowess and scorching sex appeal warmed up the cold winter night and sparked a sense of excitement and possibility for the year in its infancy. Now, seeing the business in its place was like a homecoming and a restoration of faith in humanity and renewed possibilities. To watch them in action is to witness the manifestation of the impossible and to feel emotions so deep that they cannot be said, only danced.
Needless to say, after their excellent 2019 and 2020 seasons, I had high hopes for their return. The complexions exceeded all expectations!