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Thrilling Complexions' Program goes from Bach to Rock

by Lewis J Whittington
October 19, 2015
Prince Theater
1412 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102
(215) 422-4580
Dance Affiliates artistic director Randy Swartz launched the 2014-15 NextMove series at their new venue, the Prince Theater in Center City Philadelphia, with a most ambitious concert by the New York based Complexions Contemporary Ballet.

Swartz has presented a deep field of contemporary dance companies for over three decades at the Annenberg Center in West Philly and the new venue will bring local, national and international dance companies to the heart of Philadelphia’s theater district.

Founded by former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater stars Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson, Complexions is a premiere ballet forward, multi-racial troupe. Rhoden is a prolific choreographer presenting four premieres and a slew of repertory works for the Prince run. There was something for everyone.

"Ballad Unto…" (2015), scored to a suite of music by J.S. Bach, for the full company with the women dancing on pointe, was choreographed with a driving mix of ballet and modern styles that proved challenging to sustain in this performance.

Rhoden’s synthesis of choreography and music expressed the music in a literal way that became a marathon of endurance for the dancers and was freighted with crowded choreography. The dancers so earnest that it read as too technically driven in key spots, some of Rhoden’s wry gestures and cool movement variations - some seeming to mock ballet, and relationships - were lost in the dance torrent.

Rhoden mixed the complex ensemble sequences with couples’ duets, that gave one a better sense of individual performers. Among the standouts were Youngsil Kim piquing on pointe backward and locking powerfully into a thrillingly paced duet with Addison Ector and Kelly Marsh and Ashley Mayeux who also handled the quick phrasing with supple clarity.

The finale brought the dancers in a triangular formation with less frenzied patterns and catches so much of the esprit and pulse of the troupe.

“Ballad Unto…” was a mixed bag of rococo styles that needed tightening. With so much going on already, some streamlining by Rhoden might just have produced a signature work.

Act II featured more works by Rhoden to a variety of popular and tradition musical numbers that showcased his diverse choreographic template. Among the standout pieces were “Gone,” set to Odetta’s vocal about men on a chain gang being pursued. In it, Complexions' men were futilely trying to free themselves from pain, indignity and death. It was danced with intense control with standout solos by Kelly Marsh, Greg Blackmon and Timothy Stickney.

Doug Baum and Addison Ector turned up Rhoden’s classical heat in “Choke” set to Vivaldi’s propulsive "The Four Seasons." Even though the dancers occasionally grabbed their throats, they didn’t choke in this fleet challenge matching each other’s explosive pyrotechnics while displaying Rhoden’s classical fluency.

In contrast, “Solo” was a modernist adagio solo, danced with stunning eloquence by Terk Lewis Waters, set to a haunting vocal by Prince. Waters was riveting soloist and he also got to show his great partnering skills throughout the concert.

As much as the first piece looked unfinished, the finale, Rhoden's "Strum" brought everything together in this performance. Choreographed with control, it was unleashed with thrilling pace producing a liberating dance experience. Set to instrumental metal usic by the band Metallica, it was an invocation of the tribal milieu of metal heads as the dancers flew about the stage in cool mercury and black singlets by costumer Christine Darch. The troupe of 14 dancers lacerating the air diving in and out of mosh pits and dancing ballet amok into flowing ensemble geometry.

At one point, the women posed with their arms out and the men banging their heads into the women's "talk to hand" gesture. The men thentenderly floated over them in arabesque. Other stunning visuals had dancers flinging through the air and diving around the stage, dancing frantically in the spirit of the music. Rhoden's choreography instantly switched gears with equally fiery ensemble confirmations, and lift patterns that just kept evolving.

Kudos also to Michael Korsch, resident artist at Complexions, for his sterling lighting designs. The finale left this audience panting. Who but Dwight Rhoden knew Metallica could be so choreographically electric.
Complexions dancers in Dwight Rhoden's 'Strum.'

Complexions dancers in Dwight Rhoden's "Strum."


Complexions dancers in Dwight Rhoden's 'Strum.'

Complexions dancers in Dwight Rhoden's "Strum."


Complexion dancers Addison Ector and Youngsil Kim in Dwight Rhoden's<br>'Ballad Unto…'

Complexion dancers Addison Ector and Youngsil Kim in Dwight Rhoden's
"Ballad Unto…"


Complexions dancers in Dwight Rhoden's 'Strum.'

Complexions dancers in Dwight Rhoden's "Strum."


Complexion dancers in Dwight Rhoden's 'Ballad Unto…'

Complexion dancers in Dwight Rhoden's "Ballad Unto…"

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