Bach meets Bowie with Complexions Dance Co.

Complexions Contemporary Ballet emerged to offer a voice that differed from the homogeneity of the dance community in the 1990s.

A performance of 'Star Dust.' (photo credit: SHAREN BRADFORD)
A performance of 'Star Dust.'
(photo credit: SHAREN BRADFORD)

Sometimes, a radical message can become so widely embraced by society that, after a time, it no longer appears revolutionary but, rather, commonplace.

And while unity and inclusion are still far from being the overriding standard around the world, the mission that propelled Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson to found Complexions Contemporary Ballet seemed much more outrageous in 1994 than it does today. And yet, it is no less important in 2021 than it was 27 years ago.

“Complexions has been steady on its missions of celebrating diversity, equity and inclusion, which are hot topics today, but in 1994 they weren’t. It was about putting all these energies, tones and textures under one roof and letting them coexist. And that message is unity, and it’s always that. That’s what it’s been for 27 years and what it is today. I’m hoping that is what it will continue to be,” said Rhoden over the phone.

“We’re about multiculturalism on every level. Our cast is diverse, people are from different backgrounds ethnically and racially, but we are also about multiculturalism in our program.”

Rhoden, 59, is one of the most inspiring creatures in the international dance community. Originally from Ohio, Rhoden began dancing with the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company and went on to join Les Ballet Jazz de Montreal, followed by a long tenure as a principal in the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

Dwight Rhoden 88 224 (credit: Courtesy)Dwight Rhoden 88 224 (credit: Courtesy)

Complexions Contemporary Ballet emerged to offer a voice that differed from the homogeneity of the dance community in the 1990s. Together with Richardson, Rhoden catapulted the company to the most renowned stages around the world.

Rhoden’s choreographic career has spanned various media. While his ballets have been performed by leading dance companies, he has also created choreographies for film, television and circus, and has collaborated with artists such as Prince, Nina Simone, Paul Simon and Patrick Swayze.

The night before we spoke, Complexions had premiered a new work in New York City. This festive opening, coupled with a few upcoming tour dates, gave Rhoden hope that the company was getting back on track – if not returning to how things had been before Covid then regaining some lost ground.

“We opened a brand-new program in New York last night. What was wonderful was to be back on stage; our audience was there, full throttle. People are eager to see and feel again. There’s nothing like live performance. You can put as much as you want online; there’s nothing wrong with that. But there’s nothing like being in the room with the performers.

“Our challenge is restoring the rhythm of running a performing arts organization in this climate. People are more appreciative, and this pause we’ve had has really brought into focus how important art and dance is, how important storytelling is.”

To Israel, which Rhoden admits is one of his favorite countries to visit, Complexions will bring a two-part program set to music by possible opposites: David Bowie and Johann Sebastian Bach.

“This program is very much in line with Complexions, as it is a celebration of differences in many ways,” said Rhoden. “The cast, the material and the choreography that we do is celebrating the beauty of things that are very different and putting them together.”

The first part of the program is Bach 25. “I created Bach 25 on our 25th anniversary. It celebrated my love for Bach,” said Rhoden.

The second part of the program is Star Dust. “In 2014, I made Star Dust. I found that these two ballets would work beautifully in the program together. I felt some synergy there. It’s all about the contrast. Bach is eternally danceable. It has a spirit. Dancers really respond to it. There’s such a dynamic, with so many different tones. I thought it was a nice partnership between that and Bowie.”

Complexions Contemporary Ballet will perform at the Herzliya Performing Arts Center on December 8-11 and on December 13 at the Sherover Hall of the Jerusalem Theater. For tickets, visit www.kartisim.co.il