Tuesday, November 3, 2015

NextMove: Complexions Contemporary Ballet: Classical Athleticism

Andrew Brader and Ashley Mayeux in Amazing Grace; 
Photo by Bill Hebert
Dance Affiliates presents NextMove opened their new season at their new home, The Prince Theater in Philadelphia, with Complexions Contemporary Ballet, the company founded by former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancers Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson. 

It was an evening of diverse dance styles that both honored and challenged traditional forms. The music traveled from Bach and Vivaldi to Metallica, with stops along the way by Odetta, Prince, Jimmy Scott, and the traditional “Amazing Grace.” By the end of the evening the audience was thrilled and almost as exhausted as the dancers.

The evening begins with Ballad Unto... in which seven couples swirl across the stage in pairs and triplets. The Balanchine influence is apparent, classical line and movements, and yet it is so not Balanchine, a total awareness of the dancer’s body as anatomical sketch—all muscle and sinew and strength. The bare chested men preen, the ballerinas primp, as they come together and part. This is classical ballet and yet it isn’t. An awkward knee, a slight twist interrupts the smooth flow and makes us pay attention.

While the first act is classical, the second explores a variety of forms beginning with the modern athleticism of Gone (dancers: Kelly Marsh IV, Greg Blackmon, and Timothy Stickney) set to Odetta’s “He Had a Long Chain On.” The mood turns sultry in Cryin’ to Cry Out (dancers: Melissa Anduiza, Nehemiah Spencer, Jillian David, and YoungSil Kim) to Jimmy Scott’s vocals, followed by Choke (dancers: Doug Baum and Addison Ector) set to Vivaldi, then Terk Lewis Waters, who towers over the other dancers when he is with the company, here, dressed in red, undulates across the stage to a ballad by Prince. The act ends with an excerpt from Testament, a dance of passionate longing set to “Amazing Grace.”

Group image from Strum; Photo by: Bill Hebert
For the last act, Strum, the dancers, clad in metallic silver, move mechanistically across the stage as Timothy Stickney struts and stumbles around and through them to the seemingly endless music of the heavy metal band Metallica. Whenever there is a lull, a darkness with silence, the audience claps not realizing there is more to come. It’s a compelling performance that leaves the dancers almost as breathless as the dancers.

What makes this program additionally special was that it marks the inaugural season for Dance Affiliates in their new home. Founded in 1979 by Randy Swartz, Dance Affiliates started out at the Walnut Street Theater, then, in 1983 moved to the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, and now after 32 years it has relocated again to Center City Philadelphia.

Swartz sees the move as an opportunity for the company to be more “dance-centric,” now that they no longer have to fit into the context of a performing arts center. This year they will present eight companies giving 54 performances at the Prince Theater, a 450 seat house which Swartz likens to the Joyce Theater in New York City. Companies will now come in on Tuesday and stay through Sunday, allowing them to do more performances and offer more talk back sessions and master classes.

The location, he says, also makes getting to the theater easier, being located in the heart of Philadelphia. “Access to dance is a critical element,” Swartz says, not only for audiences but for the dance community as well. “Young choreographers see what is being done,” he says, local companies can spot possible collaborators or choreographers, students can find aesthetic inspiration for their own work.

Bringing in well-known national companies is also a way to stimulate audience interest in local companies. “Audiences don’t like to take risks,” he says. So seeing one dance company they’ve heard about may encourage them to buy a ticket for a local company as well. 

Complexions Contemporary Ballet
Prince Theater, 1412 Chestnut Street. Prince Theater, 1412 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19102 (267) 239-2941. October 14-18, 2015
Founding Artistic Directors: Dwight Roden and Desmond Richardson
Resident Choreographer: Dwight Roden
Technical Director and Resident Lighting Designer: Michael Korsch

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