What Complexions Contemporary Ballet has to show for 24 years on the scene is a stable of fluent movers and a lighting designer who diverts our attention without exactly illuminating the dancers on the stage. Back at the Joyce for the second time this year, with three different programs, the troupe opened on Tuesday (I saw the same program on Wednesday) with a quartet of new pieces, the first and longest by resident choreographer Jae Man Joo. His Goodnight, to music by Edvard Grieg, Gavin Bryars, and Arvo Pärt, is a delicate interplay of shadow and light, the latter provided by Michael Korsch against a pale scrim and a large white panel that broadens the vista and multiplies the opportunities for dancers to, in effect, stalk themselves. Formfitting outfits by Christine Darch acknowledge the diverse skin tones of the performers, who are lit to emphasize their muscularity; a standout among them is the Amazonian Jillian Davis. A beautiful surprise in this and other ensemble pieces is new company member Simon Plant, an Australian with a mop of curly dark hair and irrepressible energy.
The central section of the work is performed to a recording of I Send You This Cadmium Red, with Gavin Bryars’s music underscoring words by art critic John Berger and artist John Christie. The fascinating text, which meditates on the relation between color and sound, perhaps inspires the addition to the flesh-toned costumes of scarlet socks and wristlets. As the sound segues into Pärt’s ubiquitous, plaintive Spiegel im Spiegel, black curtains close behind the scrim, eliminating most of the shadows and allowing the dancers to disappear mysteriously into the dark.
A brief new piece by co-artistic director Dwight Rhoden, Duo, is accompanied by a recording of violinist Midori playing Paganini caprices at earsplitting levels. The dancers run around, slide into splits, and hoist one another into spread-leg lifts that a choreographer who was also in attendance describes as “crotch-sprung.” When they’re not exposing their inner thighs in this way, they’re fluttering their fingers in the air.
A short trio called after its music — Annie Lennox’s rendition of George Gershwin’s Summertime — is by Dee Caspary, an alum of So You Think You Can Dance and various commercial gigs in Hollywood and New York. I found it incoherent, and couldn’t figure out what the two writhing women (Larissa Gerszke and Youngsil Kim) and the gangly man (Andrew Brader) were to one another. The lyrics are about family; not so much the dance.
Ido Tadmor’s new Postponed Conversations is the evening’s highlight, not least because its Robert Schumann score, played live by pianist Daniel Gortler, maintains a bearable volume. This duet for Addison Ector and Shanna Irwin begins with their faces obscured by designer Alon Livné’s glittery golden masks, their bodies wreathed in gold tinsel and beige ruffles. One after another, they shed the masks and wrestle with great tension and melodrama, until finally Irwin collapses, limp. Ector’s efforts to revive her are unavailing; he settles down against her still form.
Of Gutter Glitter, Rhoden’s “collage” of fraught dancing to “various electronica” reviewed here in February, perhaps the less said the better. The title is apparently street slang for cocaine, and the overlong piece begins with performers crawling on the floor, abasing themselves. It ends several times before it actually stops. “Pretty lines with no meaning,” murmured the bright young woman to my left, and she was not wrong.
Several members of the audience noted sadly that Program A, for which they’d bought tickets, does not include Rhoden’s 2016 David Bowie tribute, Star Dust. You can catch that lively, lip-synched enterprise on Program B every night next week except Thanksgiving, and at matinees this weekend and next.