November 18, 2008

The Joyce Theater, NYC

November 18–30, 2008

Reviewed by Susan Yung

Photo by Paul B. Goode.

Dwight Rhoden’s


Complexions’ 16 dancers, led by the nonpareil Desmond Richardson, are among the most technically advanced around. But Dwight Rhoden’s choreography for these performers sometimes fights itself. It is so difficult, filled with one virtuoso feat after another, that it can feel dehumanized, offering bravura but little emotional connection. But a new work, Rise, to songs by U2, feels very human. Rhoden’s athletic, virtuosic style is exemplified in this premiere. He has never shied away from mass appeal, and Rise pushes that tendency to an extreme, eschewing the angst and earnestness that sometimes tether his work. Instead, the dancers smile, repeat simple phrases in sync with the strong rhythms of the loudly amplified music, and look like they’re having fun. Philip Orsano and Christina Dooling, in particular, injected palpable humanity into the suite. Recurring motifs in Rise include running in place, waving an open hand, and alternating straight arms flung high. When Rhoden chooses to be musically illustrative here, it’s satisfying, perhaps because rock itself is so kinetically primal.

The program was completed by three other premieres and a work from 2006. The new I Will Not Be Broken offered an emotional counterpoint to Rise. It featured actress S. Epatha Merkerson reciting and singing spirituals such as “People Get Ready” in a clear voice, as Richardson moved in suitably strong, defiant phrases. Richardson choreographed Fall, a premiere, for three women in swirling magenta skirts. He also contributed vocals, showing off his mellifluous voice. Rhoden’s Hissy Fits, to jazzy Bach, is like a story made up entirely of verbs: extreme pose succeeding extreme pose, fitting the goal of capturing “uncontrollable emotional impulses.” Jae Man Joo filled his fascinating new men’s duet, Surface, with circular, roiling, grounded movements that flowed together effortlessly.

Last summer, Rhoden choreographed for the TV show So You Think You Can Dance. It made perfect sense, despite the fact that Complexions has been around since 1994, touring and performing mainly within the more rarefied arena of contemporary dance. In those years, the troupe gained a following but not the millions that have now been exposed to his work. Time will tell whether there’s any lasting crossover to the company’s concert presentations.