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Flash Review 2, 11-6: Amerika, through a Dance Palely
Rhoden Tells U.S. What Time of Day it is: Six O'Clock

By Corinne Imberski
Copyright 2002 Corinne Imberski

DETROIT -- Complexions, under the direction of Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson, brings together an impressive group of dancers, but with choreography marked by redundancy and lack of innovation, the October 8 program at Detroit's Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts proved to be less than stimulating.

The performance opened with the premiere of Dwight Rhoden's "Red," an excerpt from the evening-length "Anthem," to be premiered next season. According to the program notes, each section of "Anthem" ("Red," "White," "Blue") focuses on "the strengths, vulnerabilities, diversities, and adversities that address [the nation's] virtues in regards to patriotism." While "Red" did offer an atmosphere of unity and strength by having the full company (twenty dancers) dance a lot of unison movement, the flashy choreography simultaneously offered a very plastic version of the United States. The sleek and fast-paced movement, accompanied by the music of Antonio Carlos Scott and Jimi Hendrix, bought right into the popular view of the U.S. as a society marked by people who do things quickly and without much depth, all while wearing the latest fashions seen on MTV. The blur of movement, populated by dozens upon dozens of high side extensions and arabesques, provided no insight into the nation's psyche, nor did it explore the subtleties and diversity that make this nation so unique -- it was a pale version of America.

"Solo," a work for the fabulous Desmond Richardson, proved to be the most enjoyable part of the evening. Rhoden's choreography flowed organically through Richardson, allowing us to see the exquisite control and freedom that he has cultivated in his body during his many years of dancing. "Solo" also brought some welcoming moments of stillness. These moments filled the theater with more energy than any of the fast and furious flinging of "Red." One should never underestimate the power of stillness in dance -- especially when you have dancers with as much presence as Desmond Richardson.

A duet for Valerie Madonia and Seth Delgrasso, "Ave Maria" (an excerpt from Rhoden's "Grapes of Wrath"), had some promising moments but it was ultimately unsuccessful. A clever scoot on the floor and a prolonged balance for Ms. Madonia while in a grande plie in second position on pointe offered some refreshingly new choreography, but did not help establish a relationship between the two dancers. There was also no clear relationship with the music. It would seem to be impossible to ignore the emotionally charged melody of "Ave Maria," but the choreography paid no attention to the musical phrasings and the dancers seemed to just go from step to step without making any investment in bringing an emotional context to their relationship. Perhaps Mr. Rhoden's intent was to portray a cool, disconnected relationship against the emotional resonance of the selected music, but if this is the case, it was not done clearly.

The last piece of the evening, "Higher Ground," featured the music of Earth, Wind, and Fire. The musical selection proved to be popular with the audience, some members singing while the dance went on onstage. The choreography held no surprises and was unrelentingly fast paced-interjections of contrasting dynamics and tempos were desperately needed. Much of the movement appeared to be interchangeable with the movement viewed in the opening work, "Red." Both pieces even used the same raised metal set -- placed at the back of the stage, the platform at the center of the set allowed one or two performers to dance at an elevated level, but because this movement often mirrored that taking place below, the effect was neutralized. Despite the unoriginal choreography, the company danced with abandon and enough energy to electrify the audience. If Dwight Rhoden would explore new vocabulary and tempos, or if other choreographers' works were to be added to the repertory, the superbly talented dancers of Complexions would be better utilized. As is, the evening's program left no vivid or lasting images. Also on the program were "Weigan Leid," "Please, Please, Please," and a duet for two male dancers, information on which was not provided.

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