Theater archives

The Secret of Excess


The day after seeing a performance by Complexions, I feel as if I need to go on a movement diet—you know, lift my arm, look at it for a while, and put it down. This all-star company, founded by Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson in 1994, delights in excess: dances crammed with movement, programs stuffed with dances, and performers as techno gadgets programmed for speed, complexity, and sometimes passion—glistening in the white beams and pools of Michael Korsch’s lighting.

Complexions attracts phenomenal dancers. The current roster of 17 includes Monique Meunier, former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet; Sabra Perry, once with the National Ballet of Canada; Clifford Williams and Ebony Haswell from Dance Theatre of Harlem; and Rubinald Pronk, who danced with the Dutch National Ballet. Rhoden, the company’s principal choreographer, practices a post–William Forsythe style that fragments a single human body to create dizzying and virtuosic conversations among whipping arms, rolling shoulder and hip joints, and legs that flash into the air with the precision of rapiers.

The program opener, Rhoden’s recent Hissy Fits, encapsulates both his choreography’s inventiveness and its flaws. He knows how to dazzle our eyes and quicken our pulses. But although he hints at relationships (Richardson and Karah Abiog are occasionally brought together or separated by the powerfully antic Bryan Arias), the slew of fast, high energy, the nonstop comings and goings, and the many duets and repeats of duets tell us mainly that these are super-people knocking themselves out for us. Does it mean something that at one point Pronk whirls into a sit, picks up one foot, and stares at it, just as Arias does in his opening solo? Beats me.

There’s no letup. And after a false ending, the dance thunders on, along with music attributed to Bach that’s been dissected by some uncredited composer. How can you weary of watching Perry and Matthew Prescott, Meunier and Pronk, Yusha-Marie Sorzano and Ian Robinson, Haswell and Williams, Abiog and Richardson, plusArias, and become numbed by what first exhilarated you? You can because Rhoden gluts you with crazy, disorienting beauty the way a Provençal farmer stuffs a goose with grain. Slowly your eyes glaze over.

Rhoden’s style seems to influence others who choreograph for the company. Ex–Joffrey dancer Jodie Gates’s Barely Silent has a fine score, parts of which are played live by composer Alan Terricciano and Michael Kevin Jones on piano and cello. Perry, Haswell, Prescott, and Pronk look terrific in gray outfits by Melanie Watnick. Several times, a woman’s voice speaks quietly: “I can’t understand why he didn’t write me back. . . .” Maybe the quartet has something to do with lost love, but you don’t really see the dancers trying to do anything except dance with one another in handsome, complicated ways. Prescott’s This Heart similarly, but more tenderly, engages Sorzano and Juan Rodriguez as Sinead O’Connor sings of love. Choreographer Taye Diggs does slow down the pace and density a little to present the magnificent Richardson conveying longing to a David Ryan Harris song, “If I Had a Dime.”

Rhoden is planning a full evening work, Chapters, to the music of Marvin Gaye. It involves 14 characters, four of whom, in the excerpt shown, are guys returning from military service. At this point, the plot is buried. We can tell that Pronk, Robinson, Rodriguez, and Williams are those four, that Sorzano and Williams are a contentious couple, and that Williams is interested in cross-dresser Pronk. Otherwise the stage is a mess of shrugging off, embracing, gesturing, fighting, and dancing, in which your eye occasionally alights with pleasure on one dancer or another (like Kimi Nikaidoh—also a knockout in Rhoden’s Sessions). “Months later,” says the program, and “Years later.” Who knew?