Theater & Dance

Complexions Contemporary Ballet Came to Dallas with Bowie and Bach

The ambitious Stardust is both dance performance and concert.

The New York-based Complexions Contemporary Ballet came to Dallas through TITAS, performing a mere two-part program at Moody Performance Hall. But what two parts they were.

In their 25th anniversary season, the much-lauded company that has performed in Dallas before and will return in May for TITAS’ end-of-season gala proved their place as forward-thinking and exquisitely cohesive dance-makers.

You have never seen ballet like this, leaning so aggressively into the contemporary. And with a richly diverse company, Complexions cannot help but seem like the ballet company of the future. Desmond Richardson and Dwight Rhoden, former Alvin Ailey dancers, have developed a style that is rapid and physically demanding and yet full of imagination.

For Bach 25, which premiered earlier this year on the West coast, the idea of the Baroque composer’s hallmark continuous motion is taken up with breathtaking brilliance. Set to the music of Bach, the work features the entire company in various dynamic combinations for 25 almost uninterrupted minutes. The piece opens like a stripping down and reconstructing of classical dance. The stage is filled with the raw look of a company in skin-tight, flesh-colored shorts and leotards, their bodies more sinew and muscle than cloth. They are not ballerinas twirling in a jeweled music box; and yet the moves are all turn-out and point, long lines and arabesques. Under lighting that both reveals and conceals and sets off angles and shadows, they move in ways that seem the epitome of classical dance, and yet circumvent it: in a partner diad, the male dancer holds his female partner’s lifted foot, forming a compass, flicking it down at the height of a developé like a metronome. The women, too, grasp their feet, refusing to abide by the rules. The extensions are breathtaking. One might think it would be impossible to add to Bach; I would posit that this piece does.

Stardust, a nine-part tribute to David Bowie, is an ambitious work that premiered in 2016. Complexions founder and choreographer Dwight Rhoden will confess that he wanted to be Bowie when he was growing up. And so, we have this extraordinary homage, bursting with energy, suffused with pathos and charisma, capturing Bowie’s chameleon quality. Lighting and costumes evoke a glam rock trope for dancers covered in glitter, who part gold curtains to strut onto stage. For each piece, a central company member lip-synched the part of Bowie. And while this pastiche might seem difficult to enter into at first, it is riveting. The lines between modes of performance blur; expressiveness and technique meld. Ballet’s efficiency of movement and form are harnessed for the strut, the swagger. In “Space Oddity,” a male soloist struts across stage en pointe, a long-legged, exquisite gesture to fantasy and imagination. And the piece, overall, makes brilliant use of size and height in combinations that are infectious in their energy and wildly technical. In many ways, proof that classically trained dancers can do it all.

The evening full of giants and greats marked the last performance of 2018, before TITAS picks up again in February with Dorrance Dance.

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