Written by Lisa Nicole Wilkerson for THE ARTISTS FORUM MAGAZINE
Edited by Amos White V for THE ARTISTS FORUM, INC
Photos: Moira Geist, Bill Hebert, and Ani Collier
4.5 out of 5 stars
COMPLEXIONS CONTEMPORARY BALLET AT THE JOYCE
NEW YORK, NY (February 8, 2017) Being the millennial that it is, at 23 years old, Complexions Contemporary Ballet Company exemplifies a statistical characteristic of its generation: diversity, of both its dancers and choreographic style. A wide variety of dance genres executed powerfully through the bodies of this companyʼs multicultural dancers, is something that audiences have come to know and expect. This yearʼs two-week season at The Joyce Theater (January 24 – February 5, 2017) continued in that tradition, and did not disappoint. I had the pleasure of seeing the closing night production of Ballet Unto… and the New York premiere of Star Dust — A Tribute to David Bowie, and found the performances to be very moving.
Program notes described Ballet Unto… as a showcase of how “seven couples interact in an intimate abstraction of love.” Set to music by Johann Sebastian Bach, this neoclassical ballet, largely en pointe, opened with Principal Dancer Terk Lewis Waters beautifully summoning the audience into the piece. He had a fluidity, strength and command of classical and contemporary techniques that made you want to watch him. The featured couples had lovely chemistry and danced the demanding choreography with poise, despite what seemed to be consistent partnering challenges in keeping the women “on their legs” during pirouettes.
This piece was fast-paced and high energy, and it filled every inch of the stage, which made for a “donʼt blink” audience experience. It was, also, innovative in its simplistic, yet, effective use of the upstage curtain for entrances and exits. Helped by flawless lighting, it was fun seeing the dancers get swallowed by and re-emerge from the black upstage abyss.
Star Dust — A Tribute to David Bowie exemplified the opposite side of the music spectrum. Program notes described it as “the first installment of an evening length ballet,” that will be “a rock opera style production.” At this stage, the work featured choreography set to nine Bowie tunes, from 1971 through 2016. This work absolutely symbolized the colorful, energetic, electric and unapologetically outside-of-the-box artistic nature David Bowie, himself, had. Each vignette featured a male dancer moving between being a member of the community, and standing out as an embodiment of the rock starʼs persona. When portraying David Bowie, the men would intermittently lip synch lyrics, which was a particularly effective storytelling element in the Rock and Roll Suicide vignette.
A standout piece was 1984. The dancers were sharply together, and the soloist, Greg Blackmon, was electric.
Other notable moments included the dancers — female and male — strutting across the stage with fierce attitudes while en pointe. (It was everything!) Heroesʼ duets were particularly captivating, and the footwork in Young Americans was fun, though not entirely together. The entire Star Dust work ended with a collective dance-off, somewhat reminiscent of the recurring dance sequences of A Charlie Brown Christmas. It almost made you want to get up and join in the fun. The Star Dust costumes and glittery face paint were spot on, and had chameleon-like lives of their own. With the help of well-textured lighting, the same attire and make-up appeared anywhere from psychedelic to metallic to aquatic, depending on the vignette.
As an added bonus of the entire evening, there seemed to be an underlying tone of genuine camaraderie among the dancers. Whether true or not backstage, on stage I sensed a respect for and openness to one another and the craft, that seemed apparent in every touch and moment of eye contact. Though each individual had a high level of technique, artistry and athleticism, it was only from the team-oriented mentality that they were able to clearly tell the stories of the ballets.
Now in his seventh season with Complexions, Waters said after the performance, “To me, being in this company and doing this type of work means that you are at the pinnacle of your craft, of this art that we work on every day.” It may be true that these dancers are at the pinnacle, but I have a sneaking suspicion the sky is the limit for them.
Complexions Contemporary Dance Company was co-founded by Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson in 1994.
For more information about Complexions Contemporary Ballet, visit: complexionsdance.org