bust-up: Complexions dance company.
Mae G. Banner
Egg, Nov. 19
Desmond Richardson and Nina Simone created meteor showers
that flashed and exploded throughout the Complexions dance
concert last Friday at the Egg. The living dancer and the
late and legendary singer almost seemed to be feeding off
each other, with Simone’s soul-wrenching voice pushing Richardson
to the far reaches of his boundless emotion and power.
a glorious dancer with muscles like black marble, makes you
believe he is the first dancer on earth. Costumed in a brief
red tunic, quivering and twisting in Dwight Rhoden’s African-based
choreography to Simone’s “So Low,” Richardson pressed the
limits of movement. He danced barefoot, rising to his toes
and stamping down like an ancient king, translating Simone’s
utter earthiness to physical calligraphy that involved even
Rhoden has called Richardson his muse. Both veterans of the
Alvin Ailey company, they moved on in 1994 to found Complexions.
They gathered a few talented friends—dancers who were also
musicians, costumers, designers and poets—with the aim of
taking dance a step further and showing off the many dimensions
of their original work.
They had instant success. The company has grown from half-a-dozen
founding members to 20. By the cofounders’ design, the company
is multiracial and multinational. When you see them on stage,
though, they are more alike than different. They all dance
with the in-your-face attitude of Ailey dancers, while Rhoden’s
choreography also is influenced by the push-me, pull-you extremities
of William Forsythe’s Ballet Frankfurt.
The Ailey sass and the Forsythe anger suffused I’m Gonna
Leave You, a duet for Edward Franklin and Heather Hamilton,
which they danced at the heart of Pretty Gritty Suite,
set to 11 blues and jazz standards sung by Simone. It was
a duet as duel, marked by kicking, spanking and hair pulling—all
with a jazzy swing.
Simone was an empress who could treat a blues as an art song
or a novelty number as a call to arms. Rhoden chose from Simone’s
great range in Pretty Gritty Suite, including a devilish
“I Put a Spell on You” for an androgynous male and two strong
women; a witty, jukin’ “Gimme Some” for a grinding, hunched-over
male quartet; and “Mood Indigo” as an adagio ballet for Alicia
Graf and Brian Chung.
The suite encompassed romance, anger, despair, racial pride,
and a golden-lit full-company finale whose long diagonal structure
reminded me of “Rock-a My Soul,” which was Ailey’s rafter-ringing
finale for his Revelations.
Gritty was the last and most fulfilling part of Complexions’
very full program because it displayed these top-of-the-line
dancers in a full spectrum of moods and rhythms and in combinations
from duets to the full-shot finale.
Rhoden’s touch was less sure in Red/The Force, a full-company
mishmash that opened the program. Red is part of a
three-act ballet, Anthem, that expresses Rhoden’s views
of the United States and how our country is seen by others,
especially after our post-Sept. 11 aggression in Iraq.
It’s a worthy subject, but the choreographer has a lot of
editing to do if he wants to make his meaning plain. The leading
dancers, including Richardson (substituting for Chung) and
Hamilton are obscured by the clutter of a too-large, too-busy
Richardson’s moving and triumphant So Low was part
of a smaller-scale sampling of excerpts from Rhoden works
over the past three years. Again, the choreographer seems
to be eager to show us everything he’s got, all in one program.
Unlike the crowded madness of Red, these duets, trios
and quartets were gems.
Music ranged from J.S. Bach to Annie Lennox. The action was
full of sudden contrasts, from slow and liquid passages to
frenetic, fractured moves, always with that undertone of violence
imported from Ballet Frankfurt. We’re talking love as combat;
ballet with a kick.
Sarita Allen and Franklin, both long-time Ailey dancers, performed
a poisonous Sweet Low Rise to the singing of Simone.
She raises a knee; he pushes it down. She falls backward into
his arms and he travels, so she has skitter her feet to keep
up. It’s killer dancing that leaves the audience limp.
The women of Complexions can raise one leg alongside their
ear to describe six o’clock. The men can fall into a double
backward somersault and rise again in a single elastic move.
Everyone can jump ceiling high and suspend in the air with
their legs in a full split. Really, Rhoden and his dancers
approach ballet as extreme sport, rough, but beautiful.