Complexions is one of the premier contemporary ballet companies in the world. Founded by Desmond Richardson and Dwight Rhoden in 1994, Complexions strives to reinvent dance through a groundbreaking mix of methods, styles and cultures. The company recently finished a residence at The Joyce Theater in New York City, where they premiered their newest work, Love Rocks, a rock ‘n’ roll ballet to the music of Lenny Kravitz.
Dance Informa was lucky to score an interview with Complexions company member Candy Tong, whose creativity and determination continue to empower and afford her with exciting opportunities. A ballet prodigy, college graduate, blogger, fitness enthusiast, fashion model and social media influencer, Tong certainly keeps herself busy when she isn’t wow-ing us on stage with Complexions. Read more about Tong’s journey as a professional dancer, a typical day in the life of a Complexions dancer and what she’s up to next.
Tell us about yourself! Where did you grow up, and how did you start dancing?
“I was born and raised in San Francisco, California. Like any other three-year-old girl, my parents put me into dance as one of many extracurricular activities. I remember vividly not enjoying it, and I would always cry in the beginning. It wasn’t until a couple years later when I realized I enjoyed dancing. At age nine, I already knew that I wanted to pursue this as a career.”
When did you learn (and find out you loved) contemporary ballet?
“My first real taste of contemporary ballet was when I trained under the direction of Muriel Maffre at age 13 for YAGP and ABC (American Ballet Competition), where I placed third in both competitions. Along with Miss Maffre, I also had the privilege of having Drew Jacoby, another legendary contemporary ballet dancer, as my mentor when I was 15 or 16 years old for the Helsinki International Ballet Competition.
I grew up as a ‘bunhead’ and was a stickler for classical ballet all throughout my teenage years until I was about 18. I was quite resistant when it came to adapting to the style. Having been enrolled at San Francisco Ballet School for seven years under full scholarship, I had my eyes on becoming a prima ballerina at a classical ballet company. So, it really wasn’t until when I was abroad at English National Ballet School that I truly found my love for contemporary ballet. Being accepted as a third year graduate at 17 years old, I was given the chance to work with contemporary masters such as William Forsythe, Wayne McGregor and even Matthew Bourne. New doors opened, and my eyes widened as I dove deeper into a style that almost felt re-introduced to me while I was in London. Maybe it was because I realized that I was not fit for the ballet mold or maybe it was the fact that I realized I was good at contemporary ballet. Either way, I fell in love!”
Why did you decide to attend college? How did you grow during your four years at University of Califorina Irvine?
“I actually didn’t have an option. College was always ‘plan B’ for me if I couldn’t attain a professional dance job around the age of 16-18 years old. I suffered from a severe injury when I was at English National Ballet School, and it hindered me from pursuing a career at that time. So, I made the decision to go to college. UCI was the only school I applied to and, luckily, I was accepted! I graduated high school early the beginning of my junior year, so I was out of school for over a year before entering university. I was quite nervous and reluctant to go back to a ‘normal life’. With so much determination to finish college early, I was able to graduate with a BFA in just two-and-a-half years because I had my eyes on a prize from the start. I was not like any normal college student. I had a goal I wanted to accomplish and that was to attain a professional dance contract after my graduation. My freshman year, I took 32 units each quarter to ensure that I would be ahead of the game. I grew not only as a dancer at UCI but also as a person. I’m glad that I was sort of forced to live that ‘normal life’ while I was in Irvine. I joined a sorority, took regular classes outside of dance such as STATS, French, calculus and even enjoyed Newport beach like any other student would. I appreciated every second while I was at school and am thankful for how it has shaped me as a person.”
What was it like to audition for Complexions?
“I auditioned for Complexions twice! My first time auditioning (I believe I was 16 years old), I had no idea what I was doing and honestly didn’t know much about the company (rookie mistake). I just went because everyone told me I’d be a good fit. I was booted out during the first cut. My bosses, Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson, don’t even remember me from this audition!
My second time auditioning for Complexions was about three years ago in mid-August 2017, and this time, I knew everything about the company! My first real taste of their work was their winter intensive in Atlanta in 2015. Ever since then, Complexions was on my radar and quickly became my dream company. I will forever be thankful to former Complexions dancers Terk Lewis and Ashley Mayeux for always mentioning my name for Dwight and Desmond to hire me! Anyway, back to this second audition, I was confident and comfortable during this six-hour audition at Gibney studios during a hot and humid New York City summer. I already knew some of the repertoire that we had to perform, so I felt a little more relaxed. I completed this long and hard audition feeling positive with my performance. However, I did not get my job immediately from this audition.
On Dec 26, 2017 (while on vacation in Disneyland), I received a celebratory email from Desmond Richardson with an offer to join the company! Dreams really do come true at the happiest place on earth!”
Can you describe a typical day in your life?
“We work an unconventional 10am-6pm six-day work week where we start on a Wednesday and end on Monday. I wake up around 7:30am to start my morning routine of making breakfast, sitting and relaxing to my music (usually Post Malone, Khalid or Masego) and reading the news or catching up on YouTube videos while rolling out my muscles. It takes me about 45 minutes by subway to get to Dumbo, Brooklyn, where rehearsal is held. I make sure to give myself plenty of time to travel since MTA is always unreliable! Like many other ballet companies, we start our day with an hour-and-a-half ballet class taught by our rehearsal director or guest artists. After that, we start our rehearsal period for the next six hours, which can consist of creating a new work or rehearsing our repertoire for the season. In the middle of the day (around 2:30pm) is our 45-minute lunch break. After my long day, I typically have no desire to do anything but cook, take a shower and sleep! Our work is like no other, so optimal rest is needed for this job. That’s the schedule. Now rinse and repeat!”
What is your favorite Complexions piece you’ve performed in?
“My favorite right now is our newest work, Love Rocks, to music by Lenny Kravitz. We just finished our annual Joyce season where we premiered this rock ‘n’ roll ballet!”
How do you rest and recover after a strenuous rehearsal or performance?
“I make sure to drink lots of water, eat a nutritious meal and to elevate my legs when I get home from a long day of dancing. I also sometimes take Epsom salt baths if my body feels extra achy.”
Do you take class often? If so, in what styles? How else do you cross-train?
“When I am not at work with Complexions, I am often taking class at Steps on Broadway, Peridance or, when I’m back home in the Bay Area, Lines Ballet and ODC. I always keep up with my technique with ballet classes but love to loosen up with contemporary or a heels class.
I also love to work out in the gym. I am a sucker for those trendy group classes like Barry’s Boot Camp, Rumble and Tone House. I went to Dog Pound religiously in New York City all last year. My favorite type of workout is HIIT (high intensity interval training).”
What’s one thing in your dance bag that you can’t live without?
“My lacrosse ball! It’s always my savior because my IT bands get super tight.”
You’re also a model with Stetts Management. How has your background as a dancer influenced how you model in front of the camera?
“Being a dancer has made it much easier for me to be comfortable in front of a camera. Since movement comes so easily to us, we aren’t static or stiff when it comes to posing. I also believe that the dance background helps when it comes to expression.”
From your blog and social media, we can tell you’re very fashion-focused! What are some of your favorite dancewear or athleisure brands?
“A fun fact about me is that I love wearing swimwear as leotards just because they are more stylish and unique. But I do love a good Elevé leo! My favorite athleisure brands are Lululemon and Koral.”
Nowadays, principal dancers are influencers in our field thanks to social media. How do you utilize your platform to educate, inspire, inform and share with your audience?
“There aren’t many dancers who look like me in this field. I’m a tall 5’10” Chinese female with a muscular and curvy build. I think it’s important to show younger dancers that you don’t need to fit that stereotypical ballet mold anymore! The dance world is changing slowly but surely.
I also went through a very unconventional route to get to where I am. I graduated college, did my training years at a pre-professional school and was also a competition kid. I love to give back and am always open to giving advice and tips to help others pursue their dance dreams.”
Can you share some of your goals with us – artistic, personal, anything!
“Yes! As for my dance career, I would like to pursue dancing on Broadway. But before I do that, I would love to dance in Europe again or maybe even Australia.
As for my personal goals, I have exciting news coming up very soon as an entrepreneur. I can’t reveal much yet, but it has to do with my love for fashion and design!”
By Mary Callahan of Dance Informa.