Monday, May 23, 2011

RISE and fall

It's rare that I don't enjoy an evening of dance, but I left the Complexions Contemporary Ballet (presented by Celebrity Series last weekend) holding my ears (from the over-amplification) and all but fuming at the waste of physical talent I'd just witnessed. For make no mistake - not that anyone would - the dancers of Complexions are truly awe-inspiring in their strength and beauty (see above), with many of the stunning women looking just as powerful as the ripped, towering men. The company all but steams with funky sex appeal in fact, and has the technique to leap back and forth from modern to ballet to street without missing a beat.

Yet for the most part, choreographer Dwight Rhoden (who co-founded the troupe with fellow Alvin Ailey dancer Desmond Richardson) takes the wheel of this rhythmic Rolls Royce and revs the motor but drives it precisely nowhere. The bombastic pseudo-religiosity of the opening Mercy soon became tedious (despite the amazingly committed dancing of Gary W. Jeter II), but was as nothing next to the titanic void that constituted RISE, set to a medley of fatuous fist-pumpers by U2. (I don't think I ever quite realized how much I hated Bono till I sat through this particular number.) Both pieces often looked more like cheerleading than dance, with Rhoden sending his dancers through relentlessly pounding "variations" - all landing precisely on the beat - in the kind of phalanxes you might remember from the glory days of MTV. The stamina of the dancers was stunning, but I'm afraid so was the silliness of much of this material.

Between these two disasters, however, there were glimpses of just how great Complexions could really be. Co-founder Richardson essayed a sweet little solo devoted to romantic loss in Moonlight, and On Holiday pondered domestic violence with shockingly calm directness. It's rare in the world of dance that you see a duet swing unapologetically from sex to violence and then back - in fact I'm not sure I've ever seen a male dancer coldly knock a female dancer to the floor (from which she can only wearily rise). But such things happen, of course, and so should be part of dance; and it's brave of these dancers (particularly the final pair of unhappy lovers, Edgar Anido and Christina Dooling) to go where so few others have. There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in Bono's vapid philosophy, and let's hope Complexions continues to find them out.

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