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Stepping out with dancer Desmond Richardson

Fri 7 Dec 2007 In: Performance View at Wayback View at NDHA

Desmond Richardson New Yorker Desmond Richardson is the Artistic Director of Complexions Contemporary Ballet, presently appearing at the ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, THE EDGE, Auckland, until 9 December. Asked if he is pleased with the reaction of Auckland audiences to his dance company Complexions, Desmond Richardson's beautiful face becomes wreathed in the most generous of smiles, his head nodding enthusiastically. "The audiences are wonderful, so warm and open in their appreciation and honest in their reactions." The audiences at the Aotea Centre have every reason to be appreciative. Richardson is one of the world's most important dancers and that is taking into account the entire spectrum of dance, as he has done it all, including several stints with sober "classical" companies like San Francisco Ballet, Teatro alla Scala in Milano and Washington Ballet. The majority of his work, though, has been in modern dance, with Alvin Ailey, The American Dance Theatre and Ballet Frankfurt, to name the most prestigious companies, and for the last 14 years, he's been co-artistic director with choreographer Anthony Rhoden, of Complexions, raising the standard of modern dance and re-styling it as 'contemporary ballet'. "I suppose I have always been Anthony's muse (Rhoden is a great dancer himself, chalking up appearances with Les Ballet Jazz de Montreal, Alvin Ailey and many more important companies before his devotion to creating dances took him over), and together we wanted to revolutionise this art form, raising the standard of training for the dancers, insisting on classical tuition, and shaping something new out of it all." Richardson and Rhoden were, at the time, partners in every sense, but though the company has become well established, the partnership foundered. I asked him how that affected the artistic relationship. "Not at all, we have a common bond there that separation couldn't sever, and that is something much harder to destroy than an emotional tie." Desmond Richardson was 'discovered' by Alvin Ailey, the pioneer Afro-American dancer/choreographer of his generation, who, as mentor and friend, shaped Richardson into the dancer he has since become. Their bond was so strong that, when Alvin Ailey died, Richardson bravely cancelled his first tour with pop goddess Madonna out of the obligation and respect he owed the great dancer. "I just felt that it would be wrong to go on tour with the grief and sense of loss I felt, and Madonna was very understanding, and I've worked with her since." Now expanding his scope in the arts world, Richardson has of late been heard as a singer. He appeared belting gospel tunes in Charles Randolph Wright's 2005 film On the One (released as Preach to the Choir on DVD) and sings in Julie Taymor's soon to be released Across the Universe. Clearly excited about this new career move, he relates it to his family. "All my family were singers, and I guess I just didn't realise that I had a future until I was encouraged to express myself in the film in that way. Now I look forward to lots more." Originally from South Carolina, Richardson and his family were pulled by the challenge of the Big Apple, and there he attended the renowned New York City High School for the Performing Arts, a breeding ground for many a successful artist. "I was so shaped by that experience – we did everything there, including singing, dancing, painting, writing, directing, designing, you name it." I wanted to know about his experience appearing in the film Chicago with star Richard Gere, not a dancer but in a dancing role. "Richard was amazing – he worked very hard and of course is not a dancer, but he held his place in that cast, which included Catherine Zeta-Jones, who was in her element, and Rene Zellweger, who was a gymnast early on and is very flexible." No stranger to films, Richardson has appeared with Patrick Swayze in Lisa Niemi's film One Last Dance. In 2007 the dance world has recognised Desmond Richardson's work in awarding him both the Alvin Ailey School Apex award for his contribution to the field of dance, and the Dance Magazine award for performance. Last year he was featured in the Lincoln Center's Stars of the 21st Century Gala, and also at the 78th Academy Awards Ceremony in Hollywood, live on television. One could go on and on about his accomplishments, and it's certain that as doors close for him, there's a tsunami of creative urges that will drive him for the rest of his life. Meanwhile, we can all enjoy him and his remarkable company by catching one of the last few performances at the Aotea Centre. A note about the current programme on offer (read my review of the opening night here): New Zealand's Henry Wong Doe has appeared in New York with Complexions. Henry was the original pianist (live) in the Dear Fredric segment choreographed to the music of Chopin (in Auckland danced to recorded performances by, among others, the Russian Arcady Volodos). Richardson spoke warmly of Henry and said that he worked very professionally with the company and was indefatigable in his pianism. Complexions continues at Auckland's Aotea Centre until Sunday 9 December. See Desmond Richardson in action on the video clip below. Larry Jenkins - 7th December 2007    

Credit: Larry Jenkins

First published: Friday, 7th December 2007 - 6:05pm

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