New York contemporary ballet comes to Phillips Center

The New York-based Complexions Contemporary Ballet performs Wednesday at the Phillips Center.

Special to the Sun
Published: Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 6, 2010 at 12:10 p.m.

Complexions Contemporary Ballet commemorates its 15th anniversary season at the University of Florida's Phillips Center, where the groundbreaking, New York-based company also embarks on its 2010 tour of the United States and France.

Complexions will perform a mixed bill Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.

The season is dubbed "Love, Sweat & Tears" by artistic directors Desmond Richardson and Dwight Rhoden. Both former members of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the two founded Complexions in 1994 on a cornerstone of appreciation for multicultural diversity.

The result has been an exciting vision of human movement that aims to remove rather than reinforce boundaries by rejecting the limitation of traditions within a single style, period, venue or culture.

Though the troupe began tentatively as Complexions - A Concept in Dance, today its artistic, popular and critical success have formed into proven realities.

Richardson, who is also Complexions' most majestic performer, looks as natural partnering Russia's prima ballerina Diana Vishneva as he does guest performing on Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance."

Richardson was a principal with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for seven years before joining Ballet Frankfurt in Germany. He later joined the American Ballet Theatre in 1997, where he performed the title role in the company's world premiere of "Othello." Richardson also has performed as a guest artist with world-renowned companies including the San Francisco Ballet, Swedish Opera Ballet and Ballet Teatro at La Scala.

The mercurial Richardson received a 1999 Tony nomination for his role in the premiere cast of "Fosse." His Broadway credits also include Twyla Tharp's "Movin' Out."

He has performed with Michael Jackson, Prince, Aretha Franklin and Madonna. He appears in the films "Chicago," "Across the Universe" and Patrick Swayze's "One Last Dance."

Co-director Rhoden, in turn, serves as Complexions' primary choreographer, having created more than 60 ballets for the company. Dance Theater of Harlem, Miami City Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, the Ailey company, Pennsylvania Ballet and Aspen Santa Fe Ballet (appearing here at the Phillips) all bear Rhoden's choreographic stamp.

Dance Magazine has praised Rhoden's work as "post-Balanchinean choreography, a new aesthetic in movement, stage, picture and performance concepts reflecting a post-modern, techno-savvy worldview."

Rhoden has lectured and served as Artist in Residence at universities across the nation. He has directed and choreographed for film, theater and musical performances, including E! Entertainment and Cirque du Soleil, while also working for such high-profile entertainers as Lenny Kravitz and Kelly Clarkson.

Rhoden's choreography strikes me above all in its extremes - in speed, in visual variation between lightness and weight, expansion and tension, and in the soulful execution by the company's dancers. In their extensions, feet and musculature, all 15 company members are flat-out beautiful.

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As I look forward to what Complexions will have in store for us next week, it is worth noting that UF Performing Arts also brings "Cats" to the Phillips Center this weekend. Shows are Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 1 and 5 p.m.

The Andrew Loyd Webber behemoth, famous for its group-dance numbers, was choreographed in 1981 by Gillian Lynne. Lynne began her dance career in the '40s as a classical soloist with Sadler's Wells Ballet (now The Royal Ballet) in London. She later became instrumental in the development of jazz dance in Britain.

Last year I attended a lecture that talked about Lynne's formal introduction to dance:

As a highly distracted, physical child whose schoolteachers noted her lack of focus, Lynne was brought to a doctor by her frustrated mother. After hearing the mother's concerns, the physician left young Lynne alone in the examination room, but with the radio on. As they watched through a window as Lynne couldn't help but jump about to the music, the doctor told the mother, "Look, your child is a dancer. Try enrolling her in a dance school."

Would this still happen in our day and age, or would today's pediatrician and parent instead have simply medicated the highly-successful-artist-to-be? That asked, may I pose another question: Why not introduce a young person to one of the productions in the week ahead?

Sarah Ingley can be reached at

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