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Flash Review 2, 6-24: Reaching
Complexions Turns 10, and Keeps on Turning

By April Biggs
Copyright 2004 April Biggs

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NEW YORK -- Desmond Richardson bathed in a center pool of light, as stamina, precision and pure muscle took the stage at the Skirball Center Monday. Complexions Contemporary Ballet's 10th anniversary gala, featuring the choreography of Dwight Rhoden, began with "Growth," a 1994 solo for Richardson. (The evening had been advertised to open with a piece d'occasion for Richardson and Savion Glover, but the latter was a no-show, explaining later that he had been double-booked.) In a breath, an arm burst towards the sky from Richardson's taut and rippled musculature and just as quickly vanished, one of many such images cast aside for the sake of pace. A racy yet minimalist score by Steve Reich drives this piece from start to finish, as arabesques, pirouettes and perfect double attitude turns are met with odd arm gestures.

Next on the program was last year's "Philosophies," whose live accompaniment sounded something like the stretching of rubber bands. The four dancers moved so fast their feet remained pointed at all times and I, a virgin to the rapture of Complexions, began to suspect that every company member is able to pull off a 6 o'clock penchee. The stark lighting, sparse score and scanty white chiffon costumes, though, made the overtly powerful movements seem heavy-handed. In "Sweet Low Rise," from 2002, Sarita Allen and Edward Franklin held lust and rage in the same bluesy hand. Their hot summer night was palpable.

The 1995 "Ave Marie" matched velocity with tenderness, leaving me breathless. Sandra Brown hovered on pointe for an eternity while her partner, Seth Delgrasso, flurried about upstage. The audience broke out in sudden applause for Brown; soon after Delgrasso whisked her up into his arms to reach toward their folding and unfolding end. And at last, we revisited "It All" from 2000, to the dark and sensual music of Bjork. The stage was set with two chairs for Carmen de Lavallade and Gus Solomons jr. We heard the muttering of a train. De Lavallade and Solomons engaged in restless conversation tinged with warm reassurances, obsessed by a triplet step and sweeping arms. "It All" was intensely rhythmic, the elegance of this legendary duo captivating. De Lavallade blew the doors off the back wall, she was so radiant.

Following this live archival selection, a screen dropped down to show rehearsal and performance footage from the past decade. The performers seared the canvas with their ferocity. We were primed for the premiere of Rhoden's "Pretty Gritty Suite," set to the recordings of Nina Simone.

As the lights rose, Edward Franklin beat a call to the company on his tambourine and rustled up some traditional African movement. As Simone crooned "Feelin' Good," Lynn Barre led the company with fervor. Barre is stellar and smooth, but tough. The ensemble spun forward through Simone's sultry interpretations. In "Sinner Man," several men entered and for a moment the piece resembled the segment of the same name from Alvin Ailey's "Revelations." (Rhoden danced with the Ailey.) A trio ensued in which Richardson and two women indulged in long extensions and lifted arches to the tune of "I Put A Spell On You." A sassy duet between Heather Hamilton and Franklin brought out the feisty and fun. While Hamilton flirted with "I'm Gonna Leave You" on pointe, the company and their tambourines paraded across the upstage.

Complexions attempts to bring together many sundry textures and genres, though they may be distant cousins in the same family. Rhoden's technical influences are obvious, as when in "Gimme Some," from the Simone suite, Prince Credell's legs glide out from beneath him, evoking a tap step. Rhoden, a cunning and vigorous dance-maker, has also developed an idiosyncratic style distinct from the world around him. He seems especially fond of pulling the head to the side and using angular arm gestures. But these ticks can seem indiscriminate and recycled. At times, the context is left undeveloped and the piece relies solely on the exuberance of the movement.

The appropriately and enticingly titled "Pretty Gritty Suite" is painted with oranges and yellows. As the suite reached its peak, Solange Sandy led the company in "I'm Goin' Back Home." Again we saw something familiar, a Ron Brown bounce in Sandy's fierce seduction of us. Without warning, the tone shifted. The piece topped out and another soloist, Miho Morinoue was lit from above with hazy white lights. The entire company stood on stage silent, watching her struggle in the downstage left corner. Richardson brought her a tambourine and, on a steep downhill, we were brought to the finale. House music ricocheted off the walls and the dancers went full force with several entrances and exits, ballet moves spun and twisted into agile perfection. And then we were slingshot to the heavens as they threw up their arms in exhilaration.

April Biggs earned her BFA in Dance from Florida State University and is currently pursuing graduate studies in Poetry at Sarah Lawrence College. She has been dancing for 25 years and since moving to NYC has performed and collaborated with Silverbrown Dance and Vandance, as well as other choreographers. She is founder and director of The Biggs: A Publishing Collective. As an artist who extends herself between the language of words and the language of the body, she seeks to punctuate the ugly with grace, to make tender the brutal. She has choreographed many solo and group works and, presently, is working on a solo project to premiere in 2005.

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