Complexions Dance Company

May 8, 2005

Complexions Dance Company
Joyce Theater, New York, NY

May 8, 2005

Reviewed by Joseph Carman


Complexions, under the guidance of artistic directors and founders Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson, has a sizable following, due in part to the company’s rich collection of dancers—short, tall, black, red-headed, straight, gay, fiery, and languid. This season alone they nabbed Sandra Brown, Alicia Graf, and Jodi Gates, as well as other lesser-known but often equally impressive talents. And of course, there’s Richardson, who ranks as one of America’s greatest living dancers, period.

But then there’s Rhoden’s choreography, which grabs the viewer by the eyeballs and refuses to let go. It’s the live, three-dimensional dance equivalent of a video game, with Rhoden at the controls. Exaggerated physicality and speedy direction changes characterize his work, along with stretch-and-yank partnering.

, like many of Rhoden’s pieces, has a ritualistic feel; the 14 dancers assemble ceremoniously and dance as if their souls are at stake. Rhoden packs surprises, like a swarm of dancers that circles the stage, then opens up to reveal a man executing break-dance butterfly moves. Rhoden often punches the music (J.S. Bach, Michael Hersch, Arvo Pärt, and the live accompaniment of violinist/composer Daniel Bernard Roumain) with overt rhythmic literalness.

Likewise, in Pretty Gritty Suite, Rhoden explores the range of nine of Nina Simone’s smoky recordings, adhering to his hyper-physical context. In some cases, the illustration looks too obvious. In “I Put a Spell on You,” Jae Man Joo aims finger-waving voodoo gestures at the audience. But in “I’m Gonna Leave You,” Heather Hamilton, with her passionately expressive dancing that explodes from a placid façade, makes it clear (like Simone does) that she’s not going to take it anymore from some loser. “Mood Indigo,” which Rhoden approaches more calmly, benefits from the long-limbed luxuriousness of Alicia Graf and her gracious partner, Brian Carey Chung. Graf seems like a terrific muse for Rhoden—her fluid coordination and lovely line offer a female counterpart to Richardson’s stunningly sinuous movement.

William Forsythe, who understands the function of dynamics (like humor and counterbalance) in choreography, contributed the headiest, most satisfying work on the program. Approximate Sonata begins with Gideon Poirier, a standout for his clarity and directness, contorting his mouth into weird shapes. Jodi Gates then joins Poirier for an athletic encounter with a vocabulary seen in much of the Complexions repertoire, like wild développés, off-balance penchés, and quirky partnering moves. But Forsythe shines a different light on it all by using a quiet score by Thom Willems and Tricky Pumpkin; the result is startlingly intimate and caressing, as the two repeatedly part and join together.

In pairs that seem counterintuitive (like the diminutive, precise Miko Morinoue and the lanky Clifford Williams), three couples add their own flavor and relationship to the choreography. The piece ends with Gates and Poirier discussing, dissecting, and correcting what didn’t feel right in the run-through.

Rhoden emulates a lot of what he sees in Forsythe’s choreography; in time, his work may take on a more nuanced, sophisticated look. But for now, Complexions can congratulate itself on pulling in a new audience. Plenty of young people love the adrenaline rush of video games, and Rhoden knows who they are.

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