Thursday, January 26, 2017

Complexions Contemporary Ballet rocks out at The Joyce

Complexions Contemporary Ballet
(photo: Rachel Neville)

Overflowing with virtuosity and technique, the future of contemporary ballet. Embracing diversity with 15 dancers of different ethnic and dance backgrounds and founded by Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson, two former stars with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, this company is pure dance, pure excitement. 
--from the website of The Joyce Theater

As anticipated, a whole batch of David Bowie hits--from "Space Oddity" to "Lazarus"--have taken up residence in my brain, thanks to Complexions Contemporary Ballet, now presiding over The Joyce Theater through February 5. I saw Program A last night, a show that concluded with a New York premiere, Dwight Rhoden's STAR DUST, subtitled in program notes as A Ballet Tribute to David Bowie. Currently, my head's streaming "1984." The other piece on the bill, a world premiere, is called GUTTER GLITTER and has an epilogue duet inelegantly titled SO NOT A... (AN EPILOGUE TO GUTTER GLITTER). I'm not sure, but I think all these uppercase letters are intentional parts of the title, not just a graphic design element. Sometimes uppercase letters in titles can be a bit much, but with this company, they just make sense.

Yes, these dancers are certainly "overflowing with virtuosity and technique." I haven't seen Complexions in years, but I don't remember the virtuosity and technique being so convincing as standalone values that they would lure me back for more. What I remember is struggling to see past them. But now I would happily revisit the current troupe just to savor how remarkably good these dancers are at what they are asked to do, how hard they work at this, and how Rhoden pushes his abundant, maximalist aesthetic to the max, splashing that stage with a big corps and deploying it like an agile, formidable army. And, yes, if you like pure, abstract dance, if you crave pure sensation, if you want precision and performance that seizes space and never lets it go, then Complexions is your company, "the future of contemporary ballet."

Andrew Brader and Jillian Davis
in Dwight Rhoden's GUTTER GLITTER
(photo: Moira Geist)
Terk Lewis Waters,
in Dwight Rhoden's STAR DUST
(photo: Breeann Birr)

There's so much. Often, there's too much. The GUTTER GLITTER glittering glitters on too long. Seriously, dances that sprawl like that and seem to be resolving towards an end only to start up again work my nerves something fierce. It's something I just don't have a lot of patience for, I'll admit.  STAR DUST, organized around nine Bowie songs and their actual length, at least gives you a sense of where you are in the schedule. If you've read your program, when you get to "Young Americans," you know the end is nigh--although, I must say I was surprised by the thinness and lethargy of the ensemble work in "Young Americans," relative to everything that came before, as if Rhoden's movement ideas had run out. By contrast, Peter Gabriel's mournful version of "Heroes," set near the middle of this suite, gave Rhoden and dancers space to breathe without dragging them down. Don't mind me, though. At STAR DUST's end, the audience loved on this company, with good reason, for the gift of this entire evening. People leapt to their feet, sending the dancers off with cheers ringing in their ears.

The sensual STAR DUST has a readymade advantage--our Bowie nostalgia as well as the matchless Bowie songs, despite the visual silliness of lead dancers like Terk Lewis Waters or Andrew Brader, both standout performers in any moment, lip-syncing to them. Moves-wise, it draws upon the same rare physical elasticity, crystalline precision and brashness that makes GUTTER GLITTER a breathtaking eyeful. Take your dance-reluctant friends to a Complexions show and make newborn dance fans of them. I dare you. I double dare you.

Complexions Contemporary Ballet runs at The Joyce through February 5 with a gala this evening and two programs. For detailed programming and schedule information and tickets, click here.

175 Eighth Avenue (corner of 19th Street), Manhattan

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