Dallas — David Bowie’s death in 2016 spurred Complexions Contemporary Ballet artistic director Dwight Rhoden to create ballet tribute to the late, great rock legend. Star Dust premiered later that year, and the company released an excerpt reel showing a varied, promising work. Their recent visit to the Moody Performance Hall in Dallas to close out the 2018 side of TITAS’ season fulfills every expectation and then some.
But first, Bach 25. A 40-minute dance to an assorted mix of the Baroque composer’s work highlights the company’s emphasis on athleticism, from the movement to the costumes to the lighting. The curtain opens on the music with dancers already moving under warm downlights. Minimally dressed in skin-colored attire (leotards for the ladies, shorts for the men), they maneuver through Rhoden’s signature vocabulary while executing extremes shapes and delicious suspensions. Articulate petit allegros easily sit alongside typical contemporary postures and movements.
The dancers switch moods as the songs change. A wistful piano signals somber gestures with welcomed moments of stillness and reflection, while cello notes later on bring a more playful tone. A powerful choral number matches beautifully with large traveling sequences, and one would think it’s the big finish, especially since it ends with a blackout. The lights come back up on a men’s quartet with less energized music. Since the other sections run seamlessly together with the stage remaining illuminated, the abrupt blackout and energy change make the work feel longer.
Likely, the perception of time is also influenced by anticipation, because many in the audience have no doubt been eagerly awaiting the second act for a good part of the year. Nine Bowie songs deliver a variety of moods, and Rhoden weaves together a satisfying combination of choreography, acting, and visual effects for an inspiring, fun tribute.
Upstage lights create a disco ball effect for a dramatic opening. More lights reveal dancers in brightly-colored sleek costumes, including leotards, leggings, and asymmetrical variations of both. Brilliant, glittery face paint completes the effect. The most fascinating aspect is that each song has a different dancer lip syncing the song, bringing a different performance quality to the contemporary vocabulary.
In addition to movements that frequently appear in Rhoden’s choreography, quirky gestures and playful transitions add depth and personality. A gold streamer curtain appears for a few of the songs, and its upstage placement allows for striking entrances and exits. Exhilarating leaps and slides into splits create the expected thrilling moments, while the increased use of stillness and range in timing dynamics make the work as a whole truly pop.
It’s almost impossible to pick a favorite section, but “Heroes” stands out a bit more than the others. Against the mesmerizing Peter Gabriel cover version, the dancers execute deliberate, articulate movements while connecting with each other. It’s one of the most human segments in the piece.
Other sections allow dancers to shine, individually and as an ensemble. Tim Stickney explodes in a flashy “1984,” and Jared Brunson struts around for “Life on Mars.” Jillian Davis proves stunning throughout. “Space Oddity” displays lovely moments, while “Modern Love” presents a toe-tapping, jazzy party. “Young Americans” ends the work, and the audience bursts into thunderous applause before the curtain closes. Spirits stay lifted, as the dancers genuinely have fun with the choreography and exude an infectious enthusiasm. It’s a work that begs multiple viewings.