Complexions Contemporary Ballet
November 25, 2017
The evening’s big attraction was Star Dust, a ballet tribute to David Bowie. But to reach that gem, the audience first had to deal with Gutter Glitter, an “abstract landscape of contrasting ideas,” the first installment of choreographer Dwight Rhoden’s Collage Series. To recognize the dancers as extraordinary is an understatement. However, the work was disjointed and danced to music that didn’t connect to it, especially the bits that sounded (intentionally) like broken glass. The movements, with many enormous extensions and sinuously stretched arms and legs, didn’t make me see or understand what was meant by “discovering the light in darkness.”
Star Dust was another matter. This work, set to nine of the master’s songs, is the first half of what Rhoden hopes to launch as a full-length work. An homage to Bowie’s ever-changing, gender-bending spirit, the ballet premiered in 2016 in Detroit, about six months after Bowie died. At the start the audience enters the world of Bowie’s music with Lazarus, danced by the company featuring Brandon Gray, tall, athletic and a joy to watch. (Mr. Gray almost, but not quite, redeemed Gutter Glitter.)
Breaking the fourth wall with dancers, male and female, lip-synching some of the songs was smartly limited to maximize impact. There was plenty of glitz with disco balls, a gold ribbon curtain, psychedelic costumes by Christine Darsh, ample face paint and lots of bare skin.
Swagger prevailed as did deep second position pliées, a move Mr. Rhoden is fond of. In Space Oddity, Addison Ector and a group of woman all danced in pointe shoes, cleverly driving home the insistence of gender fluidity (and giving Mr. Ector a brilliant opportunity to strut.) Star Dust’s music is a direct tribute to Bowie enhanced by choreography with feet popping into pointe, sinewy arm gestures and hip flexes that recall, but don’t directly mimic the pop star. Watching ballet while listening to classic rock and roll clearly gave the audience pleasure—the addition of a large dose of sexuality only added to the all-out glee. The joy grew as the work progressed becoming more energetic until the final piece, Young Americans, had practically everyone–on and offstage—enraptured, swaying and clapping.
Complexions is an energetic, young company with performers of diverse talents—many with endlessly long legs including the entrancing Jillian Davis. Founded by Rhoden in 1994, the group is known for a singular approach to dance, mixing methods and styles. The company feels strongly that dance should be about removing, not reinforcing, boundaries. In Star Dust, they have more than lived up to that challenge. This is a performance to be savored. Let’s hope the full-length version comes soon.