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Complexions at The Joyce

by Richard Penberthy
January 12, 2007
The Joyce Theater
175 Eighth Avenue (at the corner of 19th Street)
New York, NY 10011
212-242-0800
Friday, January 12, 2007, 8 PM Performance
Complexions was co-founded only 12 years ago, in 1994, by choreographer Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson. Mr. Rhoden did not dance, but Mr. Richardson, who is lately involved in various forms of theater did. He is a presence onstage - muscled, shirtless throughout, expressive and technically brilliant.

The whole company is vastly talented. Striking, in comparison to almost any other dance company, is that the men, in arabesque, attitude, leaps, whatever, have astounding elevation, as they are obviously encouraged to. They don't stop at horizontal - they stretch up, up, up to near vertical. That characterizes the dancing too - why hold back if you can go faster, higher, bolder?

The word "inclusiveness" leaps out of the modern vocabulary here: the name Complexions refers to the whole range of racial/ethnic variety of the world, a range of which is represented onstage. And it goes past ethnicity…there is a wonderful, extremely moving pas de deux in the Act I ballet "Hissy Fits" between two men. Hissy Fits, a suite of dances representing emotional tensions between couples, was premiered only this fall. In casual rehearsal clothes, dancing en corps and in brief dramatic pas de deux, the company is electrifyingly fast and technically brilliant. Each couple encounters the inevitable emotional short-circuit (as couples will) which onstage becomes the abandoned lift, the shove, the intentional awkwardness. Bryan Arias performs a Puck/Ariel role here, keeping tension high, but non-toxic. The music is by Johann Sebastian Bach!

Act II includes four ballets, Barely Silent, a world premiere pas de quatre choreographed by Jodie Gates who is also the company's rehearsal director, Loose Change, a New York premiere solo choreographed by actor Taye Diggs, This Heart, a New York premiere pas de deux choreographed by dancer Matthew Prescott, and B. Sessions (an excerpt), for four dancers, choreographed by Dwight Rhoden.

Barely Silent, a dance for two couples really, has the men in trousers with sheer pant legs and the women in chain mail-like skirted leotards. Music is composed and performed by Alan Terricciano (with Michael Kevin Jones). It is a quiet dance, a sudden change of pace after Hissy Fits, meant to "show how…the silent message of body language…reveals more truths than the spoken word" (from the program). Well, this is dance, after all. There is some spoken word in the music, only a little of which can be comprehended: "between a rock and a hard road" was one phrase. This seemed a reprise of the first ballet, at least in part.

Loose Change was performed by Desmond Richardson, and it packed an emotional wallop. Choreographer Taye Diggs writes that it was inspired by the David Ryan Harris song, "If I had a Dime for every…." This is not a quiet dance of silent longing or brooding; instead, it grows from them to writhe with mood and energy, with reflection and needfulness. Mr. Richardson's expressive hands, his perfect balance of dance and drama strike the audience with the power of a storm.

This Heart is a short, sweet gem of a dance. Sinead O'Connor's love song, and the eerie harmonies of shape-note singers cradle this wonderful dance. With O'Connor's first iteration of the song, Yusha Marie Sorzano dances solo, and with the entry of the drone-bass, the duet with Juan Rodriguez is engaged. There are lifts, lovely lifts, echoing fugal figures, choreographic poetry, and each dancer is completely absorbed in the other. When the dance ended, the audience sighed - how often does that happen in the City?

B. Sessions (B for Beethoven) was another high energy ballet performed to classical music (viz. Bach for Act I). In various costumes (example: Mr. Richardson, topless, wore a pointsettia-red trapezoid-hem skirt), four dancers, Clifford Williams, Kimi Nikaidoh, Karah Abiog, and Desmond Richardson, danced on the floor, on chairs, and on or around each other. There seemed an almost Stomp!-like joy to the dance - competitive, bragging, supportive, and exhilarating all at once.

Act III - Chapters, a world premiere from Dwight Rhoden, comprised 9 chapters (of what will be many chapters) from a planned evening-length musical theater work/ballet, performed to the music of Marvin Gaye. The characters, 8 women and 8 men, are described in Dramatis Personae in the program, and there is a synopsis there as well. It is the story of a group of life-long friends in New York City. Among the characters are four who have just returned from war, a bi-curious cross-dresser, an ex-pageant queen, and many more. The choreography is reminiscent of Slaughter on 10th Avenue or West Side Story. The chapters were: prologue, chapters 5, 6, 8, 9, 12, 12.5, 13, and 16. With the exception of two or three standouts, most of other characters remained background material. Undoubtedly that will change as the piece develops.
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