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Review: Complexions contemporary ballet

Thu 6 Dec 2007 In: Performance View at Wayback View at NDHA

Complexions contemporary ballet Wednesday 5 December at Auckland's Aotea Centre Artistic Directors: Dwight Rhoden, Desmond Richardson When Martha Graham unleashed 'modern dance' on the world, many traditional ballet lovers were repulsed and gloomy about the future of dance. In fact, now it's clear that all along there was need for development in dance forms and styles of dance, and today we bask in the warmth of Graham's vision realised. She is never very far from most of what's on offer in dance companies around the world, and Complexions is a good example. Complexions is a group of 16 dancers under the co-directorship of a man the New York Times hailed as "one of the greatest modern dancers of his time" – Desmond Richardson. Richardson's a multi-faceted artistic genius who, in 2005, made his singing debut in Charles Randolph White's film One on the One. His career as a dancer has spanned the years 1983 to the present, but he concentrates now on guiding this, his company, and training his dancers in what is a unique form of modern ballet. He calls it "Contemporary Ballet," and I assume he wants the distinction to have the same meaning as "contemporary" when applied to music, separating it from "rock". Richardson was featured in one segment of the opening night and it was enough to bring the house down. His performance in Dwight Rhoden's Solo, to the music of Prince, was electrifying - see the video clip below this review. Rhoden, the other director of the company, also praised by The New York Times as "one of the most sought out choreographers of the day," has created over sixty ballets for Complexions, and all of the items on the programme bar one are his. I loved ACT I – Dear Frederic, using, rather freely at times, the piano music of Chopin, very loudly projected into the auditorium. The entire company took part, and from the beginning it was apparent that this is "stand in place" dancing much of the time. Extremely energetic, not very much dependent on dancer - to - dancer contact, ensemble in which individuality, not conformity, is emphasised, and overwhelming athleticism. It was mind-blowing. This is not movement like we see in our own dance companies. It depends on a kind of virtuosity that is masked sometimes by the effortlessness of these stunning artists – Karah M. Abiog, Bryan Aria, William Cannon, William V. Credell, Elysia Dawn, Chistina Dooling, Drew Jacoby, Gary W. Jeter II, Natiya Kezevadze, Jeremy Nedd, Kim Nikaidoh, Christie Partelow, Sabra Perry, Juan-Antonio Rodriguez, Clifford C. Williams, and, as mentioned before, Richardson himself. I said that Martha Graham wasn't far from most dance companies, but the choreography on offer this evening was independent, not paying homage, but using a new language made up sometimes of old words – the hip shaking of black tribal dances, the willowy bending and angular postures of jazz dance, the arm and head movements of classical ballet, the odd handstand and humorous shoulder shrug-and much, much more. For ACT II, Rhoden and Abdur-Rahim Jackson created small vignettes for small ensembles – mainly trios – and solos. We were given some really deeply emotional experiences in this segment, not least of all from Christie Partelow and William Cannon in Rufus Wainwright's Not Ready for Love. Partelow's long line and Cannon's flexibility and uncanny ability to express feeling through the slightest turn of the head, flick of the eye, or even twist of the foot, had the audience riveted and wound like a spring. They erupted at the end of this short work. ACT III is a tribute to Nina Simone, entitled Pretty Gritty Suite, the puns intended. It is a work filled with joy, anger, pathos, sugar and fire, as was the voice of its dedicatee. All of the dancers shone in this act, guesr dancer William Credell joining them for some cool/hot ensemble work and the odd short solo, and I enjoyed Clifford William's elegant presence here. He makes an ideal vehicle for Rhoden's quirky expressive lingo. The lighting design by Michael Korsch altogether eliminates the need for a set of any sort. Often providing pools of light into which the dancers gravitated, and featuring dramatic abstract back projections, Korsch was keenly aware of making the dancers look good from every point of view. The Edge is to be commended for taking such a huge punt and bringing Complexions to Auckland for a five night season. It's an honour bestowed on the city that this excellent and famous company would travel all the way from New York via a season in New Orleans, to beguile us with the only performances they're giving in the South Pacific. And beguile us they certainly did. I suspect Auckland will summon them back again and again. Complexions continues at Auckland's Aotea Centre until Sunday 9 December. A short video clip showing a piece by Desmond Richardson is shown below. Larry Jenkins - 6th December 2007    

Credit: Larry Jenkins

First published: Thursday, 6th December 2007 - 5:32pm

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