Complexions at the Westobou Festival 2014

hissy fits

Hissy Fits by Dwight Rhoden

Here in Augusta, GA we don’t get much quality dance performance, so I’m always sure to see whatever is offered in the annual Westobou Festival, a really nice arts celebration that occurs each fall and is, sadly, under-attended. This year the dance company was featured on October 2nd, my birthday, so it felt like a special gift for me.

Complexions Contemporary Ballet is a New York-based company celebrating 20 years. Under the artistic directorship of Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson, the group’s “foremost innovation is that dance should be about removing boundaries, not reinforcing them. Whether it be the limiting traditions of a single style, period, venue, or culture, Complexions transcends them all, creating an open, continually evolving form of dance that reflects the movement of our world—and all its constituent cultures—as an interrelated whole.”Also, the ensemble is comprised of dancers of varying heights, body types – and colors – which is pretty awesome.

Last night’s performance featured a large cast of impressively strong dancers attacking three long, challenging pieces by Rhoden. Some individuals stood out among others, Phil Orsano most especially, although the choreography was very much ensemble-driven. In a small, egalitarian company, though, one would expect a greater degree of precision and togetherness. Throughout the program, dancers were consistently out of sync by just a beat or so. The effect was a little sloppy and confusing – the audience was never sure which steps were intended to be executed in canon and which were simply being executed by dancers slightly “off” from one another. A corps featuring so many different shapes and heights requires a pretty meticulous rehearsal master to achieve the necessary precision to best show off the choreography. Perhaps one is needed here.

Headspace began with the dancers facing upstage and for a moment there was the “Chorus Line” effect of our watching from behind as though the real audience were on the other side of the backdrop. That moment went nowhere, however. The dance proceeded without further reference to any such allusion.

It was a long piece set to jazz music by Terence Blanchard. Clad in black leotards, the dancers performed in varying groups, clusters and duos. The steps were neoclassical – a modern feel with a balletic origin. It was an impressive piece, if not a bit long. I wished for closure at the exquisite moment when a female dancer slowly spun a male upside down on the floor – but the piece continued a bit longer and repeated many phrases, with seemingly no concession to the ebb and flow of the changing musical tone.

Hissy Fits was a little disappointing only because its mood felt overly similar to its predecessor. By this time, I was craving a fresh feel – maybe some softness in the arms to interrupt all the angular extension that ruled the night – as well as some pointe work, which was never to be last evening. This piece, executed inexplicably in “underwear” (think beige panties, black socks and white camisoles), came off much like Headspace set to Bach music instead of jazz.

Innervisions seemed to enliven both performers and audience. A crowd-pleaser set to Stevie Wonder songs, it was a classic example of funky jazz dance. I was worried that the evening would fall on the showy side – Complexions made a recent appearance on “So You Think You Can Dance” – but even this raucous piece didn’t cross over into shallow tricks. It was a puff piece, but a pleasant and resectable one. The only discordance came in the middle of the suite when the grim “Ghetto Village” played with no apparent change in the mood of the dancing. Stevie was singing, “families buying dog food now / starvation roams the streets / babies die before they’re born / infected by the grief” … and we were all still celebrating.

If I sound overly critical of the evening, perhaps I should reiterate that I am so grateful for the opportunity here to see a program worth taking the time to critique. I very much hope to have more such opportunities in Augusta. Although I could do without the en masse opening of potato-chip bags in the theatre – must Americans eat at simply EVERY event? – and the red wine, which the woman behind me thoughtlessly held while applauding, staining my white shirt. On my birthday. But I’m not complaining!




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