There was enough energy onstage at the Dorothy Pavilion Friday night to light up all of Los Angeles. Founder and Resident Choreographer for Complexions Contemporary Ballet Dwight Rhoden has brought together a truly amazing cast of dancers. It was also wonderful to see dancers of all complexions represented onstage. This cast of dancers were as proficient performing classical ballet movements and partnering in Rhoden’s Ballad Unto… as they were dancing jazz a la Bob Fosse in his INNERVISIONS. At the end of an almost two hour concert, one could feel that the audience did not want the dancing to stop.
Ballad Unto… introduced us to the beautiful Terk Lewis Waters whose performance remained consistently brilliant throughout the evening. Through the use of theater lighting, smoke and a multi-split curtain backdrop, Waters’ brief solo transformed into seven duets performing in unison before breaking off into one, then two and then three couples. Performed to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, Ballad Unto… began with the women en pointe. About half way through the piece they discarded their pointe shoes for ballet slippers, but Rhoden’s intricate choreographic style did not change. Throughout the entire dance, the shifting of number of dancers, altering formations and the coming and going on and off stage was constant to the point of becoming exhausting. Although the dancing was breathtaking, and the partnering complex and ever-moving, I longed for stillness. I wanted a chance to focus on one movement for more than a fleeting moment. The program notes stated that Ballad Unto… about seven couples interacting “in an intimate abstraction of LOVE”. In reality, it wasn’t until near the end of the work that the couples actually became affectionate toward each other. Terk Lewis Waters, Ashley Mayeux, YoungSil Kim and Timothy Stickney manage to stand out in this hyperactive work.
Following the first intermission, we were treated to five short dances separated only by the performers taking their curtain calls. It was a testament to the entire production crew and Michael Korsch’s lighting design for this seamless flow of five very different themes to take place. These five dances also show Rhoden’s talent for telling a story without being overtly narrative with his choreography.
GONE, performed powerfully by Kelly Marsh IV, Nehemiah Spencer, and Timothy Stickney was about struggle and survival. The opening movement involved tense rhythmic, and very masculine arm pulls initiating from the elbows; heads somewhat bowed. Each man was introduced; his story briefly told before the trio of men joined forces to move on. These men seemed to have one thing in common throughout. They appeared downtrodden, oppressed but definitely each a survivor. The music by Odetta was a wonderful choice to help relate this story.
Danced to the music of Jimmy Scott, CRYIN’ TO CRY OUT (EXCERPT) is a rare love duet in that the man and woman only briefly touched each other. For the majority of the dance, they perform on opposite sides of the stage, showing us two people having the similar thoughts and longings for each other from separate locations. YoungSil Kim and Terk Lewis Waters gave dramatic portrayals of these two lost lovers through Rhoden’s very eloquent but poignant choreography.
CHOKE is a wonderful showcase for its two male dancers Doug Baum and Addison Ector. One supposes that the title came from the reoccurring movements of each man briefly choking his own throat. Costumed in bright green, turtle-neck leotards and bare legs, Baum and Ector get to show us what their dancing prowess consists of. There was no storyline in CHOKE, just straight out male energy that was choreographed to bring vocal responses from the audience.
Amazing Grace is a classic spiritual hymn that is most often sung at funerals or other solemn occasions. Obama began the singing of it at the memorial for the victims of the mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Rhoden’s TESTAMENT (Excerpt – Amazing Grace) brings together Andrew Brader and the beautiful Ashley Mayeux. It pays homage to the song’s heritage while expressing its beauty and strength giving lyrics. I found Jae Man Joo’s costume choice, with Brader in a stylized skirt and Mayeux in a simple flesh colored leotard with bare legs, to be very striking and appropriate.
Desmond Richardson is a co-founding artistic director of Complexions Contemporary Ballet and he gave what can only be called a breathtaking performance in Rhoden’s IMPRINT/MAYA. Performed to the music by David Rozenblatt with powerful lyrics by Maya Angelou, Richardson brings forth the struggles and plight of the Black man throughout history, along with the determination to not only survive but to prove his worth. Angelou’s poetry reminds of the lynching and burnings of black men in the Deep South. Rhoden’s choreography and Richardson’s performance visualize her words of rather than fearing or being ashamed of her past, she accepts it with great pride. Pride born through prevailing.
INNERVISIONS is Rhoden’s tribute to the genius of Stevie Wonder. The dancers get a chance to not only demonstrate their talents and training in classical ballet, contemporary and jazz dance, but they literally let their hair down and boogie. At times Rhoden visualizes the music with a look back at the different social dances of the 1960s and 1970s. In a few of the duets and solos he even inserts narrative movement to some of Wonder’s lyrics. Again, the complexity of this piece is sometimes overwhelming, but Rhoden definitely succeeds in entertaining the Los Angeles audience.
Dwight Rhoden’s dances are stunning. The choreography is innovative and the program presented proves that his subject matter covers a variety of thematic ideas. Throughout the years he has brought together a very professional and talented production staff and The Complexions Contemporary Ballet dancers are most definitely among this country’s best.