Ballet meets breakdance

"I'm particularly interested in creating works that are influenced by the pulse of the time we live in."

complexion 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
complexion 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Back in 1994, when they founded the Complexions contemporary ballet, New York Magazine hailed artistic directors Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson as "two of the most gorgeous virtuosos ever to emerge from Ailey Land." Now the much admired New York-based dance company will make its Israeli debut on Monday and Tuesday at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center with a program of works by Rhoden and featuring Richardson solo in Lament, his only appearance for the evening. There are seven dances in the show: the four-piece middle section book-ended by Dear Frederic, a tribute to F. Chopin and his music, and by a salute to the multi-faceted vocal magic of jazz-singer Nina Simone in Pretty Gritty Suite. The other four pieces in the middle are Gone, set to music sung by '60s priestess of gospel Odetta, Gravity, Moody Booty Blues, and Lux, all danced by various members of the company. Rhoden and Richardson have been together since the mid-1980s, when both were principal dancers with the late, great Alvin Ailey's American Dance Theater. "We have the same vision for dance, but bring our own unique qualities to the table," says Rhoden of their long professional partnership. "We approach things from a different angle, but all angled to arrive at the same result. Desmond is more detail oriented and is an excellent coach. I am more of a big picture-image maker, and try to make the dancers go inside themselves to find the truth in a dance." From the beginning Rhoden and Richardson wanted "to bring people from different worlds of dance into one room, thus creating even more diversity in dance," Rhoden said in an interview for The Australian when the company toured the sub-continent in 2006. "We were looking for a unique original composition of people, and what they had to offer as dancers... We needed a fresh take." His choreography embraces that take in a dance language that melds the classical with pop, modern with break-dance and hip-hop, and all of it embraces the eclectic, electric mix that is New York Rhoden, 45, grew up in Dayton Ohio, a gifted boy who played several instruments and loved to dance, making up his own routines for the social dance contests he entered. At 17, he was persuaded to take formal dance training, and was promptly absorbed into the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company where, six months after he'd started dancing, "Geraldine Blunden [DCDC's then director] let me choreograph." Starting late, he felt he wanted "to do it all, and all at once." Rhoden has created some 60 ballets, for Complexions and for other US companies including Alvin Ailey of course, the Joffrey and New York City Ballets, as well as creating choreographies for such well-known acts as Prince and Cirque de Soleil. Of his dance he says "I have many things in the world I want to talk about through dance, but I'm particularly interested in creating works that are influenced by the pulse of the time we live in," described by Dance magazine as having "a post-modern, techno-savvy world view." Richardson, a native New Yorker and "the quintessential dancer" according to Rhoden, attended the city's High School for the Performing Arts, the one made famous by the movie Fame. He traveled to Germany to sharpen his ballet skills, and when he returned was snapped up by Ailey, where he quickly became a star. He has also danced with the Frankfurt Ballet, the Swedish Opera Ballet, on Broadway and in film among the rest. In 1997 he joined the American Ballet Theater where he performed the title role in the world premiere of Othello, a performance that inspired the New York Times to call him "one of the most majestic dancers ever to tread the Metropolitan Opera stage." He most recently appeared as Beowolf in Julie Taymor's production of Grendel at the Los Angeles Opera. Both Complexions and its artistic directors have won awards. The company received the New York Times Critics Choice award in 1995, just a year after its debut. In 2006 Rhoden and Richardson shared the Alvin Ailey Apex Award for their contribution to dance. Rhoden has won the 2001 Choo San Goh choreography award, and Richardson the 2007 Dance Magazine award. Complexions will also perform at the Herzliya Performing Arts Center (today and tomorrow), Haifa Auditorium (26/3) and at the Jerusalem Theater (27/3). The event is part of the Dance at the Mishkan series.