Putting Their Best Foot Forward: Complexions Contemporary Ballet

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Putting Their Best Foot Forward: Complexions Contemporary Ballet

(Courtesy of Complexions Contemporary Ballet)

(Courtesy of Complexions Contemporary Ballet)

(Courtesy of Complexions Contemporary Ballet)

(Courtesy of Complexions Contemporary Ballet)

By Abigail Raasch

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Complexions Contemporary Ballet Company “blends methods, styles and cultures from across the globe, and the result is a continually evolving form of dance that reflects the movement of our world —  and all its cultures — as an interrelated whole” according to Gibney Dance. UtahPresents, the resident multidisciplinary arts program at the University of Utah, recently opened campus doors to Complexions. Founded by Desmond Richardson and Dwight Rhoden, Complexions works to sway ballet normalities to create richer, more complex works of art. Throughout their residency at the U, the company has held three masterclasses, a student matinee and worked with local dance studio outreaches. They concluded their visit by performing at Kingsbury Hall, a work entitled “StarDust.”

Through the work of School of Dance Assistant Professor Kate Mattingly and student Tori Holmes of the Dance Studies Working Group, the U was given the opportunity to listen to an in-depth artist talk between Dwight Rhoden and Dr. Thomas DeFrantz before Complexions’ performance. DeFrantz is a Professor in the Department of African and African American Studies and of Dance at Duke University. DeFrantz serves the arts and dance world with his academic research of the history of dance and how it is currently changing.

Dancer Terk Lewis Waters
(Photo by Rachel Neville | Courtesy of Complexions Contemporary Ballet)

During the talk, they discussed the famous dance company Alvin Ailey and their influence on Complexions and the dance world as a whole. Both Rhoden and Richardson danced professionally with Ailey for many years before going out on their own. “There is a clear genealogy I can see from Alvin Ailey to Complexions,” said DeFrantz. Coming from a man who studied Ailey in depth and wrote a book entitled “Dancing Revelations,” this was a beautiful compliment to give Rhoden.

But why leave Ailey? “When I got in the company, I already wanted to do choreography … I was already bitten by the bug,” said Rhoden. He was given the opportunity to choreograph first for the studio, then for the second company. The choreography was flowing out of him. Rhoden eventually retired from Ailey with Richardson. “[Richardson] and I didn’t start off to start a company,” Rhoden said. “We just wanted to explore … we invited people we knew around New York to come together.” They brought together a motley crew of professional dancers whose focuses ranged from ballet to hip-hop. They were just looking for dancers to collaborate with them. The two ended up putting on a three-night performance called “Complexions.” “’Complexions’ was supposed to be a one-time project,” said Rhoden. But after the performances sold out, Rhoden and Richardson saw how great this concept could be. They said, “We’ve got to do something with this.” Complexions, the company, was born.

Because of DeFrantz’s research regarding the Ailey Company and inclusion in dance, it was no surprise he took an interest in Complexions. “Ballet was one of the basic foundations [Ailey] was interested in,” said DeFrantz, so to create a contemporary ballet company with a bit of Ailey at the heart of it made sense. Rhoden and Richardson created a ballet company for the people. Yes, it is still a professional ballet company with beautiful dancers, but Rhoden shared how each one of his dancers has “something distinctive.” “I call them my band of misfits … it’s a compliment to me,” said Rhoden. He has taken what the extremely picky ballet world calls “barely not right,” and made each dancer feel “right.” Whether it be gender, race or training differences between men and women in ballet, Complexions is pushing boundaries. “I feel like we are doing it through the work,” said Rhoden. They aren’t beating it into the system, but they are acknowledging the changing world and the beauty of it through the only way they know how: dance.

“We are uniting people,” said Rhoden. The beautiful and subtle goal of Complexions is to look at the concepts of complicating the ballet equation and add more to it than seen before. The performance at the U included a tribute piece entitled “Bowie.” DeFrantz said, “We are attracted to story.” What a wonderful way to share your beliefs, passions and ideals, through a well-done and stunning tribute ballet to Bowie.

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@AbigailRaasch