Dallas — Complexions Contemporary Ballet co-founders Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson frequent Dallas as guest choreographers and artists, but it’s been five years since their company performed their own concert here. For many fans that’s too long, but they got their fix with the TITAS season closer presented at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Winspear Opera House.
Rhoden (who choreographed all the dances in the program) and Richardson founded the company in 1994 with the vision of blending dance genres to create unique methods of expression and movement. While they weren’t the first group to do this, they’ve arguably been the most influential in the contemporary ballet genre, especially as it crossed into the commercial dance world.
The morning of the concert, ATTPAC and TITAS hosted a free outdoor ballet class taught by a Complexions dancer. Greg Blackmon, first year company member, shared Rhoden’s style of using contemporary transitions to hit the classical lines and shapes. The end result? A beautifully articulated body which snakes through several torso and hip articulations between the tendu and arabesque.
Thus, one expects to see magnificent athletic endeavors, intriguing movement invention, and perfectly contoured bodies—and the company always delivers. But as delicious as their physicality and maneuvers appear, it’s only part of the artistic picture, and Saturday’s concert was the perfect example.
Opening the concert was Ballad Unto…, described as “an intimate abstraction of love.” Seven couples start on stage, but rarely did they stay in one place for long. Rhoden’s fast-paced choreography had the dancers bursting dramatically from the upstage back curtain, then whipping into various partnerings before spinning through unison segments.
For first-time CCB patrons, it perfectly introduced the dynamic movement of the company, yet it also illustrated Rhoden’s weak area as a choreographer: of overpacking the suitcase. In an effort to be complex and intricate, often times too much movement happened in a small amount of time. Add in the intricately quick rhythms and melodies of Johann Sebastian Bach’s mostly clavichord score, and the audience was on visual and auditory overload. Audio issues midway had the dancers moving in silence, and it was the most beautiful mistake of the piece.
The jam-packed work, though, only seemed to elevate the experience for many audience members, judging from the reactions around the lobby during the first intermission.
Five shorter works followed, offering much greater variety. In Gone, Kelly Marsh IV, Nehemiah Spencer, Timothy Stickney explored emotions of hopelessness to the minimalist sounds of Odetta, with only a single, soulful voice and body percussion as the sound score. Choreography featured thrashing pirouettes and earthy plies, as the dancers delivered a satisfying balance between Rhoden’s aesthetic and the simplicity of the music.
A slower, thoughtful duet between Melissa Anduiza and Terk Lewis Waters allowed for greater reflection on the movement in an excerpt of Cryin’ to Cry Out. Jimmy Scott’s smooth jazz vocals lent a more luxurious quality to Rhoden’s signature moves.
An excerpt from Chronicle, with music from percussionist and frequent CCB collaborator David Rozenblatt, took an energetic turn, as clock ticks and other mechanical sounds paralleled the robotic, militaristic movement of the six dancers. The performers began in separate male and female ensemble parts before transitioning into duets. Although the spatial and partnering patterns were typical of CCB, this was by far the least balletic, with choreography closer to the modern contemporary genre.
The 2010 TITAS commission, Testament, returned in part with Andrew Brader and Ashley Mayeux delivering a beautifully articulated duet to “Amazing Grace” with wonderful picturesque moments.
It wouldn’t be a Complexions concert without the legendary Desmond Richardson performing, and he did not disappoint with Imprint/Maya, also with music by Rozenblatt. Melanie Nyema’s passionate vocals set against piano and minimal strings offered a blank slate for Rhoden to experiment with hip hop vocabulary against a distinct Ailey modern style and, of course, a balletic undertone.
After another intermission, the company closed with the rock ballet Strum, featuring music by Metallica. With most of the curtains gone and lighting hardware visible, the audience was greeted with a bare, industrial look to complement a ballet with swagger. The music eased into the hard-hitting metal sounds, as the dancers slinked through sensual unison choreography with a scrumptious use of breath. Jazzier movements naturally complemented the score, but plenty of motifs from previous pieces repeated.
Tim Stickney frequently became the focus with his angry intensity, and Jillian Davis delivered amazingly quick and precise pirouettes. Some of the best moments came from a simple arrogant walk from the company, but they thrilled with other maneuver such as running and sliding into various splits.
As stirring as the piece was, it became very tiresome, mostly because the concert as a whole ran quite long. Although this delivered more excitement than the first piece (which had a similar run time), it had the same wearing effect.
Regardless, the company’s popularity in Dallas remains evident, and they displayed a lovely end to the first all-dance—and most innovative—season of TITAS.