BWW Review: BALLET BEING TRENDY. STARDUST AND BACH 25 BY COMPLEXIONS CONTEMPORARY BALLET at Bovard Auditorium USC
When Isadora Duncan led a new era of dance, she could never have imagined that ballet itself can be bold and modern, that modern dance is not the only alternative route to emancipate an authoritative structure of classical ballet, and that ballet can evolve forms to reflect the movement of the world and culture.
The COMPLEXIONS Contemporary Ballet showed us new possibilities of forming the body, presenting a style crossing the boundaries while remaining based on ballet training. Though fundamentally based on the same ballet techniques, dancers presented movements that were not necessarily danced in any classic repertoire.
The word "contemporary" is a message of freedom; However, freedom never comes from indulgence, but rather from discipline.
As the founders of COMPLEXIONS told the audience in the Bovard Auditorium at the University of Southern California, on September 2, 2018, "every dancer needs to have solid and excellent ballet skills, plus they need to have their own character."
Dwight Rhoden, founding artistic director and principal choreographer of COMPLEXIONS, earned the distinction of "one of the most sought out choreographers of the day" from The New York Times, and has danced in prestigious ballets and contemporary companies himself.
Desmond Richardson, a legendary ballet dancer, co-founder, and co-artistic director of the company, was the first black American principal dancer of American Ballet Theatre. The New York Times named him as one of the greatest dancers of his time.
On a much cooled off, but not yet cold, Tuesday LA night, Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson brought their STARDUST and BACH 25 to LA again. Although they had already performed in some other venues, and were scheduled to perform in the Laguna Dance Festival that coming weekend, excellent performances deserve endless dance tours, until the voices emanating from their movements are heard by all.
The BACH 25 portion of the program focuses on "mood". 15 dancers were wearing nude-colored shorts and leotards, their skin looked ivory, the girls' hairstyles were neatly entwined in the back, tidy and clean, without a hair out of place. They looked like marble sculptures. The pace was fast, and dancers moved on every beat. Like reading John Milton's long poem Paradise Lost, each line keeps your eyes moving down and you don't want to take a break. BACH 25 has that power: the emotion-filled lines and muscles, paired with the silent interaction, formed overwhelming waves under the skin, often causing members of the audience to even forget to breathe.
A traditional Chinese phrase perfectly describes such series of movements: flowing water and marching clouds.
It's Bach, Johann Sebastian Bach. If you close your eyes, the cello's deep emotion and violin's fluidity may create a vast image of endless hills covered with grass near a peaceful lake. But in BACH 25, atmosphere is wonderfully intense, thirty minutes just passes like a second. Using the same music, the choreographer enlightened us with a unique perspective. A perfect merging of contemporary dance and ballet technique.
BACH 25 reminds me of the deconstructivism in architecture. The movement of postmodern architecture started in the 1980s, characterized by an absence of harmony, continuity or symmetry. It is easy to recognize the finished visual appearance of deconstructive architecture by it's unpredictability and controlled chaos, for the intended unpredictability always leads out with an astonishing eye-catching charm.
In a way, sculpting, architecture, and dance are all in the same category. After all, the deconstructing process is just a new way of choreographing, with an outside the box mindset. BACH 25 is a timeless piece of contemporary art.
The STARDUST portion, on the other hand, is very "human". The subtitle gives away the main theme: A Tribute to David Bowie. Everything is about him. The stage, lighting, and costume design are marked with his signature visual identity of Ziggy Stardust: the flash of red hair, red triangle on the tights, and red and blue paint on the faces gave 15 dancers their own David Bowie identity.
Nine hit songs were presented, each with its own choreography. Like a mini David Bowie concert, rock style lights shine from the stage to the audience seats, bringing the auditorium back to 1990s. Each dancer had their hair style soaked with water. With each whip of their heads, water would splash into air, onto their bodies, and disappear in the laser lights.
Each song was lip-synced by a different lead dancer, acting as David Bowie. The performance goes through each song: LAZARUS, CHANGES, LIFE ON MARS?, SPACE ODDITY, 1984, HEROES, MODERN LOVE, ROCK 'N' ROLL SUICIDE, YOUNG AMERICANS. Although the choreographies are all wonderful, 1984 hit me the most. I was lost in the performance and forgot about the time and space.
But the climax of the night was the moment when a lead dancer walked on pointe during SPACE ODDITY. He owned the stage! Boldly strutting across the entire stage en pointe, while lip-syncing and delivering a confident beat-matching stride, as if it was as easy as performing a normal walk. It was awesome and painful to watch at the same time, similar to the feeling you get when watching tightrope walking. But very quickly everyone proved their capability of muscle control, as they all went en pointe. That's when the party began. Everyone watching hailed with long applause. Dwight and Desmond said that Misty Copeland performed the pointe walk lead in a previous tour as female version of Bowie and is very interested in joining their production for future possibilities.
That is the freedom that I spoke about earlier. Never let the body restrict you. Human bodies have the potential to do anything, if we develop them correctly. Even the most inhuman pointe technique can be something extraordinarily modern. The time they spent on pointe, and the motions they created while en pointe were much longer and more challenging than those typically performed in classical ballet.
COMPLEXIONS was founded in 1994, and is considered one of the most recognized and respected performing arts brands in the world. Their foremost innovation is to remove boundaries as opposed to reinforcing them. Beyond the fact that their dancers are from all over the world, creating a diverse display of innovative free movements, I also give them a thumbs-up for their underlying choreography: yes, they hit it strong!
photo credit: COMPLEXIONS Contemporary Ballet