Complexions in Los Angeles 11/03/01
Posted 05 November 2001 - 02:54 PM
Complexions was created by Desmond Richardson and Dwight Rhoden in 1994. Richardson was formerly with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and American Ballet Theater, where he performed the lead role in the company’s premiere of “Othello.”
Rhoden, who is the company choreographer, also danced with Alvin Ailey as well as several other companies but is known now for his innovative choreography.
This company is really different than anything I have seen to date. A eclectic mixture of styles from contemporary ballet to Broadway-type show-stoppers, gymnastics to modern. I was amazed!
I preferred the balletic numbers overall but enjoyed the rest as just pure entertainment.
The opening number “From Me to You in About Half the Time” was incredible. All through it I kept thinking “wow!” Rock solid ballet technique displayed by innovative choreography. Think if you will, “Steptext” by Forsythe, but with more emotion.
Edwaard Liang, a former NYCB soloist, deserves special mention. My seat had terrible site lines so much of his performance was lost, but what I saw was outstanding and he received a large ovation from the audience.
Dance legends Carmen de Lavallade and Gus Solomons, Jr. performed a piece called “It All” to music by Bjork consisting of lots of arm movements and emotions. I figure that the lady must be in her 70s but still elegant and together they were very expressive.
Since I was having such a hard time seeing, I decided to move from my Row C center seat to the back of the theater during the first intermission. Much much better! I wasn’t being beaten to a bloody pulp by the music and I could see!
The orchestra seats in the front of the Ahmanson are horrid. Not raked and one seat directly behind the other. So, if one has a big-headed guy sitting in front of one, one can’t see!
After the intermission Sheri “Sparkle” Williams performed a piece call “Growth” and her skills as a physical fitness trainer were well used. The audience loved her non-stop athleticism. After the first two numbers, this one was rather a surprise and I finally figured out this was not your mother’s night out at the ballet kind of company.
Music by James Brown set the tone for Sarita Allen and Marc Mann dancing the blues in an excerpt from “Please Please Please”. Another crowd pleaser.
And then the dancer I most wanted to see — Desmond Richardson in a solo.
First off this man has a body that has no fat on it, nary an ounce and every muscle is finely delineated. He looks like a moving sculpture, body that is art, passing through time and space with power and grace — all parts connected, never stopping but heart-stopping in beauty and complexity. A hand movement that looks like Michelango’s David come to life.
The only number after that that made any real impression on me was Ave Maria performed by Valerie Madonia and Meredith Rainey. Her steely strength en pointe was another highlight and he was a perfect partner.
It was too bad that this powerful number followed Richardson’s as I was still rather stunned from his solo.
The last two numbers in the Act I were nice, but, just nice. “Givin’ Up” with Don Bellamy and Michael Thomas and “Wiegen Lied” with a host of dancers were not striking. Just nice.
Act II was not exactly my cup of Earl Grey. “Higher Ground” set to music by Earth Wind & Fire was just too Broadway for me. Not that it wasn’t good, I just preferred the ballet numbers more. It was a fun and highly energetic piece — I don’t think the dancers hardly stopped moving at all while they were on stage. But after the first numbers this was a light-hearted let down. Although the rest of the audience would disagree with me!
For more on this fascinating company including some awesome photos check out their web site
Posted 05 November 2001 - 02:59 PM
Anybody else see it and care to add their view?
Posted 06 November 2001 - 01:29 AM
Lewis Segal sounded almost too personal in his attacks on Rhoden.
I think the Segal must be very well educated in dance and choreography whose experiences allow him to compare Dwight Rhoden unfavorably to Merce Cunningham. Other critics have had a different opinion.
A company succeeds when it allows me to access deep emotions. When it shows me beauty in a new way.
I can generally see if a dancer is sloppy or awkward, or falls off pointe or has real problems partnering. When that happens then I can say that a performance failed me in some way. Or if the dancer is so unemotionally connected to his or her partner than it is alienating to the audience also.
Complexions satsified the ballet lover in me and also disappointed that same person. But, I could not say whether or not the choreography was pedestrian or mundane - I could only say that parts of the evening's performance I liked and parts I didn't.
Guess that is why I am NOT paid the big bucks for being a dance critic! :-)
Posted 06 November 2001 - 11:07 AM
I understand that most people judge a ballet solely on its danced performance, I don't entirely; I want to see intelligence in its creation as well. There are plenty of good dancers out there, more than there is good choreography nowadays. To me, it's one of the saddest things about ballet right now that all this dancing talent has so little to harness itself to. And seeing excellent dancers in mediocre or worse choreography is a sore point for me, so I understand Segal's objection to the idea.
There was a ballet I saw a few times (it's by a living choreographer, a colleague and a nice person, I'd prefer not to say whom); the first time I saw it, I merely thought it was disjointed and confused. The second time I saw it, I thought it was actively a bad work. The third time, I thought it was pernicious and actually bad for ballet.
My objections to it were variations of those stated by Segal; the work exploited its dancers by forcing them to do the work it ought to have done in the choreography itself (meaning: no structure or form to the choreography, but dancers moving around at 150% energy trying to make up for it). It offered up sensation as content (meaning: again, the choreography relied on anything but itself to carry the work; do that and you've lost me completely). I found the work dishonest, smarmy and hypocritical. I was truly angered that people came away from that evening saying they had seen a ballet and liked it, when the things they liked about that dance (breakdancing, gymnastics) were everything in it but what was ballet. Worse still, I was fearful for ballet because they were duped.
The ballet was an absolute hit and I loathed it passionately, but it wasn't personal and I don't think Segal's comments about Rhoden's work are either. It's the expression of an aesthetic divide, one you'll find often in ballet. Again, I didn't see Rhoden's work, it's certainly not for me to judge work unseen. But in the question of content versus sensation, I'm with Segal.
[ November 06, 2001: Message edited by: Leigh Witchel ]
Posted 06 November 2001 - 01:49 PM
Your comments are right on and for me, very educational! I
had to laugh at your description of one ballet that went from merely "disjointed and confused" to "pernicious and bad for ballet."
Funny description, but rather sad overall.
>>I understand that most people judge a ballet solely on its danced performance, I don't entirely; I want to see intelligence in its creation as well. There are plenty of good dancers out there, more than there is good choreography nowadays. To me, it's one of the saddest things about ballet right now that all this dancing talent has so little to harness itself to. And seeing excellent dancers in mediocre or worse choreography is a sore point for me, so I understand Segal's objection to the idea.<<
Being so new to the apprectiation of dance I am afraid I do not have the skills yet to see beyond the performance.
What I find curious about critics is that what one sees as derrivative or poor choreography, another critic just as educated and informed, will see something entirely different.
Hard to know what to think in that case.
I went to see Complexions partly because I had read a terriffic review I think in the NY Times.
I hope you get to see this company as I would really love to hear what you think of the choreography!
Posted 08 November 2001 - 12:35 PM
I did want to address a comment you made about critics, though.
[quote] What I find curious about critics is that what one sees as derrivative or poor choreography, another critic just as educated and informed, will see something entirely different.
Hard to know what to think in that case.
We've discussed this before, but that's no reason not to do it again smile.gif I've seen this kind of comment a lot on message boards, usually much much less politely phrased than you did, and usually accompanied by the thought that "so those jerks don't know what they mean, and any opinion is as good as any other." When it comes to whether or not I liked the performance and this or that dancer, I agree; any opinion is as valid as any other, because it relates to personal experience and taste, and yours may differen from mine.
But in the larger context, is it really so odd that two critics would disagree? Think of it in terms of politics. There are people of both parties, or both ends of the political spectrum, who are educated, thoughtful, and, for the sake of argument, men of good will. Yet a far left Democrat and a far right Republican -- or vice versa -- will see the issues of urban decay, poverty, international relations, nuclear disarmament and school lunches very differently, and propose different solutions. Both politicians may well have Ph.D.'s in political economy from an Ivy League school, both may have 30 years of distinguished public service including stints in the Peace Corps and years of grassworks neighborhood politics. They also have different philosophies. Sometimes differences of opinion may be motivated strictly by politics in the terrible sense -- I have a nuclear power plant in my state, so to hell with world peace; this is jobs. Or, I really think it's right and just to have better school lunch programs, but I have to vote with my party, and besides, if I do, I'll get that committee chairmanship. But on a higher level than that, if you put thoughtful people in a room and said, just discuss, no votes today, you'd have very different opinions.
That's the same thing with critics. There are political parties within aesthetics. There are formalists (people who believe that form is essential in a work of art), expressionists (people who believe art is personal expression) -- and that's just one example. We're all shaped by our experience, and if someone is writing about Sleeping Beauty who's never seen it, or only seen a poor production, no matter how many years they've been writing, they're going to see it differently from someone who's been watching Sleeping Beauty for 50 years.
Time served does not necessarily equal great criticism, or course, but again, all things being equal, if you've never seen a definitive performance of "Agon" it's difficult to judge what your local ballet company is doing to that work. If you've never experienced a period when truly great work was created on a regular basis, it's difficult to judge new works in a fallow period. Also, there are critics who have a broader world view than others. Some can see a particular performance very clearly, but don't seem to think about it in a larger context. Some people may see the context, but be less helpful on telling you exactly what was happening on the stage that night.
Reading criticism is as much of an art as writing it, I think. After you've read a certain critic for awhile -- a year, maybe longer -- you'll not only be able to compare his or her views with yours, but be able to discern his background and his prejudices, or slant, to be more fair. (One of the most useful critics I ever encountered was a man who reviewed film for the Washington Post awhile back. The most consistent reviewer I've ever read -- everything he thought was great, I hated. Everything that bored him, I loved. If he thought a film had too slow a pace, I thought it was beautifully serene and subtle. If he thought it was exciting, I often thought it was vulgar. While I think the best critics are those who aren't predictable, I certainly did appreciate him.)
Another comment -- I can't resist. Critics do not make big bucks. There are very few who have full-time paying jobs. The vast majority are freelancers, so even the few among them who are paid adequately for their time and expertise have no benefits. When I started at the Washington Post in 1979, I was paid $25 a review. That's per review, not performance, and I often had weekend wrapup duty (the Post reviewed cast changes then) which meant 2, 3, 4 or even 5 performances for that $25. (They've raised it since, but they haven't added two zeros.) So call us evil, venal, stupid, or whatever (not that you did), but please don't say we're in it for the money smile.gif
[ November 08, 2001: Message edited by: alexandra ]
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