• Jen Norris

Review: Complexions Contemporary Ballet


New York City’s Complexions Contemporary Ballet took the outdoor stage at Stanford’s Frost Amphitheater Wednesday August 3 in a two-act program, titled STAR DUST: From Bach to Bowie. First up, choreographer and Co-Artistic Director Dwight Rhoden’s BACH 25, created in 2018, performed to recorded Baroque music by Johann Sebastian Bach and the more Classical sounds of his son Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach.


As fifteen Complexions’ company members filled the stage, standing on their toes, arms lifted triumphantly skyward, it was evident by their varied body types that this troupe was not created around a narrow balletic body aesthetic. There were statuesque women and petite men, and a refreshing diversity of racial identities present. Minimally costumed with bare legs, and bare chests for the men, the muscularity of the performers was awe-inspiring. When Rhoden and co-founder Desmond Richardson created Complexions, they sought to remove boundaries and blend methods, styles, and cultures from across the globe and this company and piece were an exemplar of the goal.


Program notes for the piece were confined to: “Reverence, Celebration and Moxie.” As a series of duets and trios unfolded, the dancers demonstrated their flexibility with tall kicks in which their knees seemed to touch their noses. The classical vocabulary was present in extended arabesques balancing gracefully on one leg, the other extended behind them, their chests held high, with eyes focused up. Male-female partnerships formed, with the men lifting the women in split jumps and front facing frog leaps. I enjoyed the variety of pairings, in particular a tall man paired with a petite woman who spun gracefully inside his lifted arms. The classical form was interrupted by a series of pelvic thrusts or a leg extended to the side then bent over an arm, the knee resting for a time on the elbow. Often dancers dashed in and then slid playfully on the soles of their feet into their poses and pairs. The variety of large unison sections followed by smaller groupings kept the piece interesting, though an opportunity was missed in not creating any same-gender partner sections.


After intermission, as the amphitheater lights faded, bright white lights swung blindingly out toward the audience, leaving no doubt that a glam rock performance was about to begin. STAR DUST (2016) A Ballet Tribute to David Bowie lived up to the innovative flamboyant nature of its inspiration. Choreographer Rhoden, well supported by Michael Korsch’s colorful and dynamic lighting, created nine distinct pieces around the Bowie songs. A majority of the songs had a lead performer supported by a group of back-up dancers. The lead dancer, new with each song, assumed the role of Bowie himself, lip-synching lyrics and connecting directly with the audience, drawing us in with gestures, words and facial expressions. There was prancing, strutting, sassy hip bumps, crotch grabs, and grand-standing. Stand-out moments abounded. Thomas Dilley, center stage in Life on Mars, performed a fall into center splits and seemingly effortlessly rose back out of them using only his inner thigh muscles. In Space Oddity, Serafin Castro wowed as he assumed a deep plie en pointe his feet in forced arch, balancing for an extended time before he pulsed up and began an erotic long-legged catwalk in his toe shoes.


The cast supporting the central Bowie character performed valiantly while consigned to a supporting role. Influences from popular dances of the times, in this case the 1970’s and 80’s were interwoven, from disco finger points to the Footloose grapevine, and bouncy sock-hop kicks. The choreography, which began the Heroes section, showed off the talents of a trio who took turns supporting each other’s solos, allowing each to be a hero “just for one day” as the lyrics suggest.


Rhoden did an excellent job creating transitions between pieces/songs providing time for the audience and the movement to shift gears. Heroes concluded with a long chorus line of performers frozen down stage as Miguel Solano hugged each, and after a lingering gaze at the audience he accepted a chin raise from his friends and the stage bounced back to jubilant life with the song Modern Love. Young Americans, a full company section, had a magnificently intricate line dance for all. It was feisty and cool with jutting hips, swimming arms, and rich footwork - we were left breathless and wanting more. Fittingly the bow sequence was performed to Bowie’s Let’s Dance and the standing-ovation crowd grooved along with the performers in a celebratory dance jam.


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Review by Jen Norris August 4, 2022

Full program here: https://live.stanford.edu/blog/august-2022/program-notes-complexions-contemporary-ballet

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