The face of Complexions

Dwight Rhoden is one of the most sought-after artists on the dance scene, and this week, he brings his company to Israel.

Dwight Rhoden 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Dwight Rhoden 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Dwight Rhoden has been called a dancer's choreographer, and he doesn't dispute the label. "My work is completely driven by the artists in front of me; I'm inspired to bring out hidden gifts in performers and have them contribute to the process in a way they might not even realize." The artists in question are the tremendously talented group Complexions, the New York dance company he and peerless dancer Desmond Richardson founded in 1994. Before they became co-artistic directors 12 years ago, Rhoden and Richardson were principal dancers with Alvin Ailey's American Dance Theater in the mid-1980s. "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." The much admired New York-based dance company will make its Israeli debut on March 24 and 25 at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center. There are seven Rhoden dances in the show, including Lament, a celebrated solo that Richardson will dance, and Pretty Gritty Suite, a salute to the multifaceted vocal talents of jazz-singer Nina Simone. From its beginning in 1994, Complexions has stood out. Rhoden and Richardson wanted "to bring people from different worlds of dance into one room, thus creating even more diversity in dance," says Rhoden. "We were looking for a unique, original composition of 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. Rhoden, 45, grew up in Dayton, Ohio. His father was in the air force and "when I was 11, I went to live with him in Germany for two years," a period that enhanced his horizons. At home in Dayton he attended private schools, played the flute, the clarinet and the drums, and he danced, making up his own routines and entering local social dance contests. At 17, because he was always dancing, and because "I couldn't really decide what I wanted to do with my life," he was persuaded to get some formal dance training, "and a whole new world opened up for me. "I realized that my passion for dance was very real, and even though I just did it as an everyday thing, I was suddenly thrust into an environment where people were training seriously, with discipline, dedication, and I thought 'That's what I want to do.'" Rhoden 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. I had always created routines for social dancing and didn't even know that it was called choreography. I always saw images of movement in my head when I'd hear music, so choreography and dancing went hand in hand from the beginning. I was already late starting, and I felt I wanted to do it all - 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 stars such 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." A winner of the 2001 Choo San Goh choreography award, and together with Richardson, of the 2006 Apex Award for excellence from the Alvin Ailey school, Rhoden is much in demand as a lecturer and artist-in-residence at universities around the US. He tells his students "to strive for excellence and not to forget why they dance. "I tell them that they have to love it, and if they lose sight of the reason, to find it quickly, or stop. I tell them to be honest, passionate, and to understand that to perform for people is a privilege, and a very powerful position to hold." In addition to the TAPAC shows on March 24 and 25, Complexions will perform at the Herzliya Performing Arts Center (March 21 and 22), the Haifa Auditorium (March 26) and at the Jerusalem Theater (March 27). The event is part of the Dance at the Mishkan series.