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uwws: complexions—a review

Complexions Contemporary Ballet hit Meany Hall this weekend with “Love, Sweat & Tears” in honor of its 15th Year Anniversary Tour

Complexions (photo courtesy UW World Series)
By Team Diva – Chavi M. Hohm & Kim V. Colaprete

Taking the stage this weekend at UW’s World Dance Series is Complexions Contemporary Ballet, the brainchild of Dwight Rhoden & Desmond Richardson, both alumni of Alvin Ailey. Complexions delivers heavy-hitting “performance” pieces that aim to please. The dancers are clearly classically trained but well versed in the musicality and athleticism of Rhoden & Richardson’s contemporary choreography. The works are staged with show-stopping style and pop marked by forceful musical choices and the divine lighting skills of Michael Korsch.

Rhoden founded Complexions in 1994 and has choreographed over 70 pieces for the company, as well as producing works for companies from Alvin Ailey to Cirque du Soleil. Richardson, co-founder and a masterful performer in his own right, starred in the premier of American Ballet Theatre’s “Othello” and danced his way to a Tony nomination in 1999 for his role in the Broadway musical, “Fosse.”

Complexions opened their show with “Mercy,” which premiered in California this October. The stage is set with seven couples decked in gauzy white on a smoke-lit stage. They begin together and then break into separate lines of men and women, with various repeating dance phrases hearkening us back to African-American-style southern revivals. The dancers seem to be constantly in search for redemption but unable to experience the true release that comes from spiritual ecstasy or forgiveness. Their movements express a desire to reach beyond the here and now but they quickly draw back into their bodies, occasionally beating themselves and the floor with frustration.

In the midst of all this, dancer Gary Jeter II, clad in a tight red unitard, insinuates himself into the fray. His presence borders on distraction but his dancing is stunning and commanding. At times he is in synch with other dancers, experiencing their same fears and desires, and next he is suddenly propelling himself into their arms to be borne over their heads with astonishing grace. The work culminates with the dancers carrying us along in their heightened spiritual fervor to the evocative music of Philip Glass. In the end, it seems that “mercy” and redemption are never found and the only true satisfaction seems to be felt by the audience, who is beyond enthralled.

From “Mercy,” Complexions moved to a six-duet piece that debuted at Meany Hall on Thursday, entitled “Dirty Wire.” The dancing in “Dirty Wire” showcased more classical ballet movements, with the female dancer en pointe but juxtaposed with provocatively jutting Fosse-esque hips. The opening scene has all 12 dancers in lizard-style glittery costumes, reminiscent of the ’80s, posing in a straight-back illuminated line. Watching the opening scene, our initial reaction was that this piece was going to be sexually dynamic. What followed was a series of pas de deux, some performed with technical precision yet blasé, and others presenting tense and trance-like partnering that exposed the dark places of our relationships. Parts of this piece were highly compelling and others felt like something we have seen a million times before. There was an underlying, slightly disjointed feel that this might have been intentional. If so, it seemed to detract from the intensity and complexity of the piece, not add to it.

The final piece of the evening was “Rise,” which debuted in 2008 and was choreographed to the music of U2. This is U2 meets David Byrne, à la Stop Making Sense, with a sprinkling of Twyla Tharp—the Broadway Twyla, not the ballet Twyla—thrown in. A feel-good, colorful piece that had the crowd up and swaying their boomer hips. While we Divas are U2-loving children of the ’80s, we both found this piece to be a gimmicky give-away to make the audiences leave the theater feeling happy and joyful about the world. Not that we don’t need a little free-flowing joy right now, but it seems the same results could have been accomplished with more challenging choreography considering the expertise of the dancers and its founders. In spite of this, the final “encore” had the audience on their feet for an emotional, hand-clapping, heartfelt ovation.

We are fortunate in Seattle to have easy access to truly provocative dance companies and performance spaces, Meany Hall and the UW World Dance Series included. Complexions has all the making of a company worthy of presenting compelling choreography and groundbreaking works. Based on this, our expectation of Complexions was high. We were even excited to discover that a few of the dancers had worked with two of our favorite choreographers, Seattle’s own Donald Byrd and Nacho Duato. Although we walked away feeling a little less than satisfied, not having reached our Dance Dork ecstasy, it was an enjoyable evening of pleasing dance eye candy. And oh what eye candy it was!