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Complexions Contemporary Ballet

In Excess

by Cecly Placenti

January 14, 2007 -- Joyce Theatre, New York City

Like overindulging on chocolate cake or having one too many cocktails at the office Christmas party, more is not always better. After seeing Complexions Contemporary Ballet perform at the Joyce Theatre, I left thinking that too much of a good thing is just too much.

No one can argue that Complexions employs phenomenal dancers- the best of the best. The cast boasts dancers from companies including New York City Ballet, National Ballet of Canada and Dance Theatre of Harlem. No one can argue that these dancers have complete mastery of their bodies and technique and can use that mastery to achieve any chorographical whim. Yet even after these gods of dance knocked me out with their physicality and bravura for two hours, I didn’t leave the theatre ablaze with passion. I felt like a deer in headlights, dazed and confused. The evening was stuffed with dances, the dances jammed with movement, and the movement pyro-technized for speed and complexity. Yet that is not enough.

“Hissy Fits,” the program opener choreographed by Dwight Rhoden, was the visual manifestation of that often heard phrase. Frenetic yet precise, the cast of eleven dancers exploded across the stage, scribbling with their supple spines and limbs, making every shape somehow crystal clear yet constantly moving. The choreography was angular and jerky- like currents of electricity coursing through bodies. What is stunning about the piece soon becomes numbing, like the feeling you get after eating one too many perfectly baked chocolate chip cookies. Rhoden bombards you with fast-paced disorienting beauty and extreme technique until your eyes glaze over. Everyone in the company, including the men, have 180 degree penches and hamstrings that seem to be made out of silly putty. At the beginning it dazzles, but a quarter of the way through it seems tacky, like a circus freak show. One extension to the ear can be breathtaking, like a diamond, but dozens can be gaudy, like the Victoria’s Secret Diamond Bra. Rhoden is most definitely a very inventive choreographer, but he seems to beat a theme until it’s dead, and the relationships he hints at don’t hold any weight. What I gathered most from the duets in this piece was that these were the Olympians of the dance world, knocking themselves out for us. “Hissy Fits” was definitely a high voltage assault for the eyes, but the promise in the program notes to “capture the uncontrollable emotional impulses that frame our human relationships” went undelivered.

In Jodie Gates’ “Barely Silent,”which was unnervingly similar in style to Rhoden’s work which preceded it, the movement failed to deliver a clear message. Several times throughout the piece a woman’s voice spoke quietly: “I can’t understand why he didn’t call me back…” Maybe the piece has to do with lost or unrequited love, but the dancers didn’t communicate anything other than handsome, complicated dancing. The score, composed by Alan Tericciano and played live by Tericciano on piano and Michael Kevin Jones on cello, was more interesting than the dancing.  “This Heart” a duet by Matthew Prescott was more tender, the movement slightly softer.

The monotone of movement language throughout the evening was one of impulse and reaction - like throwing rocks in a lake or banging on a gong. There is a forceful impetus and the after-effects of that action suspend and soften. It is a pleasing way to move and view movement, but variety is in fact the spice of life! With “Loose Change” choreographer Taye Diggs did manage to slow down the pace and density to give Desmond Richardson the time to present feelings of desire and longing. It was a gestural and rippling solo and watching Richardson flex and curl his serpentine spine was like watching a tree sway in a storm.

In Rhoden’s “B. Sessions” we get a bit of a peek into the dancers individuality, finally, but only a little. Nevertheless, it was refreshing and welcome. The movement surprised by starting and then taking off to somewhere unexpected and Rhoden played with the intricacies of Beethoven’s score. I would have liked to see more contrast in the overall dynamic of the piece.

After the second intermission, excerpts of “Chapters,” the full evening work Rhoden is planning, was served like a 100 pound cheesecake after a seven course meal. Overstuffed with vocabulary at this point, keeping track of the vignettes was like trying to whack a piñata after spinning around a dozen times. Set to the music of Marvin Gaye, “Chapters” attempted to highlight the story of lifelong friends living in New York City. Taken apart, the segments were nothing but a frenzy of embracing, shoving, gesturing, fighting and dancing in which your eye occasionally gets a moment to alight on one dancer or another. If designed to set us up for what is to come, “Chapters” failed to convey a story of any kind.

In an evening of dazzling technique and power house performers, less can sometimes be more. By one definition, the word complexion means the combination of the four humors of cold, heat, moistness and dryness thought in ancient physiology to control the temperament and constitution of the body. Perhaps in this Complexion we need more balance to vary the temperament of those bodies in motion.

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