By Walter Rutledge
Complexions Contemporary Ballet presented their 22nd New York City season at the Joyce Theater January 24 through February 5, 2017. The Program A consisted of a world premiere Gutter Glitter, and a New York premiere Star Dust. Both works offered a look into the evolution of the company and resident choreographer Dwight Rhoden.
The seventeen-member ensemble danced with a prowess and aplomb on par with world-class dance companies. Moving effortlessly through Rhoden’s non-stop choreography, with its now signature undulating torsos and generous extensions. Although Gutter Glitter and Star Dust were new works the overall stylistic presentation harkened back to the 1980’s. In particular the company reminisced elements of Maurice Bejart’s Ballet du XXe Siècle.
Rhoden’s incorporation of homoerotic elements was evident throughout. The male dancers were the centerpiece of the company and the array of body types are as deliciously varied as a Valentine’s Day sampler box of chocolates. Both dance works used the men as the central figure(s), and to Rhoden’s credit he has found a way to direct this energy at the audience. The imagery created in these works form a sublimal erotic conversation with the audience, which at times feels voyeuristic in nature. What is even more noteworthy is he completes this feat without overt or literal same sex interaction.
The most striking 80’s esthetic throwback is his use of sexual ambiguity in his stylistic and movement choices. A perfect example is one of his signature movements (a supported a la second allonge’ then ronde de jambe the leg to parallel six position a terre); Rhoden powerfully opens the body then closes it back to center visually creating passive and vulnerable imagery. This movement is one of many indiscriminately executed by the both the male and female dancers creating unison or “mono-sex” imagery.
Rhoden has body type preferences. Many of the men are slender in build with a subtle, at times subdued persona, while the female performers attack with an almost Amazonian fervor. All the performers have long supple legs with contortion-like stretch and high extensions; this helps to blur the gender lines and traditional roles.
Rhoden’s Gutter Glitter is a collection of abstract vignettes that produced a work more episodic than thematic. This gave the dance a design anchor, which allowed the audience to create their own storyline from the imagery. Structurally the work showed signs of exploration and growth as Rhoden ventured away from his predictable linear patterns and elemental symmetry. In particular, his use of diagonal groupings framed the foreground action in a fresh and uncluttered way.
There is a great deal of partnering in both works, but the mood of most of the duets was more combative than perfervid. Dancers dispassionately executed supported pirouettes (in ballet slippers) and intricate promenades, then the male partner relinquishes authority and becomes the submissive. This made the movement conversations feel more Carrie Bradshaw and Stanford Blatch (Sex In The City) than Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights).
In the middle of the work the female ensemble returned en pointe; which did not compliment the dancers or the choreography. Dancers valiantly barreled through pique ́ turns, and performed echappe ́and similar intermediate level steps with tentative classroom energy. The men had difficulty keeping their partners on her leg in the pirouettes and promenades, which made the section even more perilous.
The one exception was the duet featuring Kelly March III and Young-Sil Kim. March III danced with a spirited bravura breezing Kim through multiple pirouettes and offering steadfast support throughout. Their assured performance exuded an excitement and unforced charisma and generated the evening’s only traditionally gender specific sensuality.
Star Dust, a tribute to the late music icon David Bowie, uses music from Bowie’s glam period- the epitome of sexual ambiguity. Each section had a different Bowie leading man, who distinguished himself from the cast by lip-syncing the lyrics. Theatrical, with rock star flare, glam era war paint and disco era mirror balls, each Bowie interpreted a different side of the artist through this music.
Rhoden can be choreographic verbose, and in the past has not always capitalized on his dances natural ebb and flow. Here the length and content of the Bowie music helped him create a focused and more concise dance work. Again Rhoden drew on new sources to expand his choreographic lexicon.
In the past when staging ensemble sections Rhoden has relied on several choreographic patterns and devices, and two have become parts of his choreographic signature. He likes placing the dancers in three linear rows with the first and third rows moving in counterpoint to the second; or five couples, one center and the other four on the up and down stage quarter, which evolves into five different duets performed simultaneously. These groupings create energy, but do not always maintain a consistent visual focal point that clearly delineates primary, secondary, foreground and background action for the audience.
Although these devices appeared in both works Rhoden deviated from his comfort zone in Star Dust by introducing new movement patterns and groupings. When the group lifts Turk Waters with rock star adoration the change in level strongly communicates Rhoden’s intent. Star Dust show off Rhoden’s lighter and more entertaining side and the forty-minute work-in-progress is off to a good start.