Dwight Rhoden, founding director (along with legendary dancer Desmond Richardson) and choreographer at Complexions Contemporary Ballet, came of age in the 1970s adoring the songs and personas of David Bowie. Even before Bowie’s death last January, Rhoden was cogitating a project about his pop idol, whose diverse imagery and constantly evolving music fascinated him in equal measure.
Star Dust, Rhoden’s homage to Bowie, had its first performance last June in Detroit and is featured at every performance of Complexions’ current Joyce season. “I’m not afraid to entertain you,” Rhoden told Newsweek‘s Stav Ziv last month, and the forty-minute work is nothing if not supremely entertaining, with its face-painted performers, its gold-tinsel back curtain, and Michael Korsch’s startling rock-show lighting that bounces off disco balls. The nine songs represent half of a full-evening work Rhoden hopes to launch next year with his 23-year-old company, itself a notably diverse ensemble.
Serving as Bowie’s avatar is company trainee Sergio Arranz, a young Spaniard who stepped up to fill the place of an injured colleague. He steals the show with his mobile pelvis, jutting cheekbones, and intense gaze, towering over the rest of the cast (which already includes a number of very tall, very limber dancers). Putting Arranz en pointe, in Star Dust‘s “Space Oddity” section, is a brilliant stroke, utterly unexpected and perfectly in tune with the late singer’s androgynous aesthetic. The troupe’s women wear pointe shoes in this section too, but Arranz’s performance moves a rock-video-like presentation into another dimension.
Weirdly, one dancer in each section seems to have been assigned to lip-sync Bowie’s lyrics; the audience eats this up, but it distracts from the full-bodied movement. Shifting from adagio sections (during Peter Gabriel’s rendition of “Heroes”) to intensely rhythmic variations and even a size-places kick-line (to the 1975 “Young Americans”), the fifteen-member ensemble is primarily deployed in gender-binary couples, though the later sections of the work, which proceeds backward in time through the Bowie catalog, do have some choreography for groups of men and even some male-male partnering. The wonderful dancers are as sleek as jet planes, as dramatic as runway models (some actually are), and utterly committed to their material.
When Rhoden finishes his wrangle with the Bowie oeuvre, he’ll have a rock opera worthy of a stadium tour. Meanwhile, his Joyce bills include his new Gutter Glitter (mercifully finished by the time you read this), apparently an effort, common to choreographers approaching midlife, to recycle bits of earlier work. Called the first installment of his Collage Series, this overlong assemblage had about six false endings, rousing the audience to applause and then dragging on. With pulsating hips, in jeans or cut-offs, bare chests or cropped shirts, ballet slippers or socks, a dozen company members and guest artist Natiya Kezevadze cavorted in Korsch’s effective islands of light, sliding and jogging, never still, while the mixed musical score, credited to “Various,” blended bits of baroque with a lot of electronica to very disjointed effect. Though the troupe’s name contains the words “contemporary” and “ballet,” its dominant style seems to be jazz, with a soupçon of vogueing. This fusion is deliberate; Rhoden defines the company’s mission as bringing “unity to the world one dance at a time.”
This week’s performances begin with a recent work, Ballad Unto…, made for the Tulsa Ballet in 2015 and then reclaimed by Complexions, that deploys seven couples to music by Johann Sebastian Bach, in an exploration of the emotion of love. Perhaps this work will let us see more of the troupe’s competent female dancers, and more of the delicate side of Rhoden’s choreographic palette, while we hold on to our hearing in preparation for the return of the loud and glorious Star Dust.
Complexions Contemporary Ballet
175 Eighth Avenue
Through February 5