Complexions is known for its athleticism, concentration on technique, and exuberant performances—as seen in their last show in Dallas in 2009 and from their work on television (“So You Think You Can Dance”) and on other stages—and that was no different this past weekend.
Previously I’ve been blown away. But I found this year’s show lacking in theme, and in some cases performance quality. The evening opened with “Moon Over Jupiter,” a dance I am still trying to figure out a few days later. Now, some might say that the fact that I’m still thinking about the dance makes it successful, but overall, I found the narrative confusing. I found myself wondering “Why?”
Why the selection of various classical pieces of music coupled with unique combinations of ballet, modern, jazz, and Latin dance? Why the concentration on back lighting and projection? And what were those video projections? During the second half of the piece, I forgot all about the movement and focused on trying to determine what the videos were of. If you are going to use an element that demands such focus, it needs to enhance and move the piece along, and unfortunately, it did not.
Yet the overstimulation caused by the direct lighting and video could not mask the timing issues between the dancers. Small group phrases that were meant to be in unison lost their rhythm multiple times, the female dancers were loud and heavy while running in their pointe shoes, and the movement seemed repetitive for no reason.
Nevertheless, the absolute beauty of the dancers’ movement, their exquisite technique, and co-Artistic Director Dwight Rhoden’s inventive use of space and inversion of traditional ballet partnering vocabulary cannot be denied. He manages to twist and reinterpret classical movement into a bizarre new language that it simultaneously strange and inspiring. Rhoden and Desmond Richardson (the other co-artistic director) have something to say about the future of dance and have something wonderful to add to the art form.
This was exemplified in the world premiere of “Testament,” commissioned by TITAS for this evening’s performance. Part of a year-long collaboration/residency project with TITAS, Rhoden, Richardson, and eight company members flew to Dallas a couple of times over the last year to work out of the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. They were joined by local singers Cedric Neal and Liz Mikel, and worked together to create a dynamic piece fundamentally based on Negro spirituals and that abstracted “Black dance.”
Yet, even if you are not religious or spiritual, “Testament” has the ability to move you. Whether it is just your body responding to the rhythm of the music sung by Neal and Mikel (accompanied by Geno Yong on the piano) or an individualized moment of rapture, you cannot help but connect to the piece.
The movement was juicy and fast-paced, filled with graceful slides across the floor (that seems to be becoming a trademark of Rhoden’s choreography) amazing extensions, undulating torsos, powerful leaps and acrobatic tricks. It had all the right elements, from risky partnering work—one standout moment occurred when four of the female dancers came up to their male counterparts who were lying on the floor and they stood on top of their chest pushing down their ribs—to the right mixture of solo-work, duets, trios, and group phrases.
Richardson’s solo, which came in the middle of the piece, was wonderfully performed and powerful (as it should be), and it also provided one of the few moments where a dancer connected with the singers. The addition of live music was welcome and refreshing, but at times, it felt like there were two shows going on: a concert and a dance performance. I wished the singer had been integrated more into the movement, and it would be interesting to see how that would have affected the performance of the piece.
Further, “Testament” suffered from the same ailment as “Moon Over Jupiter:” a confusion of counts and missteps. But it started not to matter as the movement became supremely organic, much like in Pentecostal religions where the spirit is said to enter the body inciting it into action, into a sort of fever-pitched frenzy. And when it happened, it was beautiful to see such highly-trained dancers giving into the ecstasy of performance, not only hearing the music, but feeling it, and allowing it to control them.
Moreover, the piece simply enlivened the audience. We were all clapping along with them, at times singing with them, and coming to our feet to applaud their work. This was TITAS first commissioning of a large original work for a company, and its first year-long residency. Overall, it was a success. If this is what we have to look forward to, I say bring it on.