Complexions takes flight in dance, music

Founded by Desmond Richardson and Dwight Rhoden in 1994, the Contemporary Complexions Ballet Company put on a performance at Bovard Auditorium on Tuesday. (Photo from Instagram)

On Tuesday, students and alumni filled Bovard Auditorium to be swept away by the Complexions Contemporary Ballet Company’s evening production of “Stardust: A Tribute to David Bowie plus Bach 25.”

Immediately after the lights dimmed for the Visions and Voices event and the prelude to “Bach 25” began, audience members collectively held their breaths. In the second half of the show, Complexions successfully brought the vigor of Bowie’s “Modern Love” and “Young Americans” to the stage.  

Founded in 1994, Complexions has been featured many times on “So You Think you Can Dance” and has won many awards, including The New York Times Critics Choice Award. Touring in over 20 countries, the dance company is known for its signature, nuanced style and study of human movement. Tuesday’s production focused on “genderbending” — evidenced by male dancers using point technique and female dancers lip syncing in Bowie’s stead — according to USC Kaufman School of Dance Vice Dean and Director Jodie Gates, who also facilitated a discussion after the performance.

During the bridge of “Space Oddity” the male dancer lip syncing Bowie’s anthem broke from ballet tradition and began to stride across the stage in poised pointe technique.

“My favorite part was when they did that flip … with the group, and changed leads,”  Rebecca Breinstein, a junior majoring in business administration, said of Bowie’s role as the music faded.

When asked about the details of choreography and theme for productions such as “Stardust,” co-founders and co-artistic directors  Desmond Richardson and Dwight Rhoden explained how the performance came together to form the bold strokes and subtle arches of Complexions’ dance style.

“I was pantherlike, like hungrylike, big,” Richardson said.  “I didn’t understand the nuances until I saw it. And so I’d say about Complexions.  We’re bold, we have this particular structure and classicism.”

In Richardson’s words, both their styles are “an amalgam of  many things,” and this allows for emotion to bleed through the forms and scenes they create.

Drawing from this combination of dancing styles produces a genre-bending blend of ballet, jazz and contemporary dance that succeeds in capturing both excitement and suffering in one graceful flourish. At the end of the song “Heroes,” the dancers formed a queue as one member tripped, was caught and subsequently caught each of his neighbors in a silent, gut-wrenching embrace.

Rhoden underscores the importance of dance as a means to communicate passion and spread understanding about the human condition.

“I started dancing very late … I couldn’t believe the discipline before me. I was hooked [by] this sophisticated language that I had no idea about,” Rhoden said.

Complexions, he hopes, serves as a means to “bring together a way to celebrate our differences as opposed to being divided by them.”

Cristyn Dang, a senior majoring in psychology with a minor in dance, spoke about her favorite aspects of the performances.

“[It] was the polycentrism of their movements,” Dang said. “I’m currently taking a jazz class … and we talk a lot about the centers of the body. So poly, many, centrism, centers, and how you can articulate through the body using these different centers all moving at once.”

The founders of Complexions value personality and individuality as a tool for making connections with others and creating change; Rhoden himself abides by the maxim: “Energy usurps anything.”