Clarity and power: Complexions Contemporary Ballet at The Joyce Theater

Complexions Contemporary Ballet in Dwight Rhoden's 'Ballad Unto'. Photo by Steven Pisano.
Complexions Contemporary Ballet in Dwight Rhoden's 'Ballad Unto'. Photo by Steven Pisano.

The Joyce Theater, New York, NY.
November 14, 2023.

Complexions Contemporary Ballet, the brainchild of Dwight Rhoden (former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater company member) and Desmond Richardson (former American Ballet Theatre member), celebrated its 29th year as a company with a two-week run at the Joyce Theater in Manhattan in November. While the company uses contemporary ballet in its name, they are known for exploring many styles, inspirations and methods in their work. Throughout its history, the company has performed in over 20 countries and has annual runs at the Joyce.

On the eve of my attendance, the performance was abbreviated due to the gala party following the show. Nearly all the works were excerpted, making quantity the theme of the night. Having seen the company perform several times in the past, I had a sense of what to expect, and this show kept with the tones I’ve seen before. It started with a bang and didn’t let up. Subtlety did not attend.

Ballad Unto… (second movement) opened the show and set the tone for the night ahead. With its continuous intensity and boldness, it proceeded the speeches and awards honoring the history of the company and the rich fabric of people who brought Complexions to life and sustained it over its 29 years. The piece, performed by Christian Burse, cleared the path for the acknowledgments, for which the dance-gala-fashion showed up in force, as is typically the case when dancers dress up. There’s not a high enough heel, or sparkly enough fabric out to contain the excitement of a dancer or choreographer who’s not wearing sweaty rehearsal clothes for once.

The program continued with The Dreamers, by Justin Peck for New York City Ballet in 2016, and this was the first time another company besides City Ballet performed the work. Next, and unique to the gala night performance were the pre-professional dancers of Howard University performing Black Is Beautiful, with a clarity and power fitting of its title. It’s a testament to any dance program that can seamlessly blend programming with a professional company.

The Fear section of Love Fear Loss, a company premier as well, explores the life of Edith Piaf and was danced by Candy Tong and Joe Gonzalez with technical neoclassical brilliancy. Originally created in 2012, by Ricardo Amarante, the themes the seasons of life prevailed and seeing it become alive onstage was poignant. Regardless, by Jenn Freeman, tackles the ideas of courage, community and being grounded in the variations of life. Accompanied by Price McGuffey on live drums, the unity of a musician onstage with the dancers amplified the work and it’s themes.

Lastly, For Crying Out Loud, a world premiere by Dwight Rhoden, closed the show. It is a work for the entire company, set to acoustic U2 music. Musically, it was an abrupt departure from the rest of the evening and the style of the dance, but the complex choreography filled the space left by the more intense pieces that preceded it. In this work, the diversity of the company shone brightly and exemplified what the founders set out to create: a dance mission to remove boundaries.

By Emily Sarkissian of Dance Informa.

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