Review: Complexions Contemporary Ballet Expands the Horizons of Dance with Star Dust: From Bach to Bowie

Complexions Contemporary Ballet emerged in 1994 as the creation of two Alvin Ailey alumni Desmond Richardson and Dwight Rhoden. They moved the parameters around ballet with their careers and then formed this dynamic and world-renowned ensemble of dancers in peak form Their program Star Dust: From Bach to Bowie was performed for one night only last weekend at the Auditorium Theatre. The first half of Star Dust is danced to classical composers with the music remixed and played with some non-traditional arrangements. The second half is dedicated to the genius and artistry of David Bowie.

The dances for Star Dust are all choreographed by Dwight Rhoden and I found it to be unique and distinctive in that it is ballet dance in form—five positions, grand jeté, impeccable plié, etc., but done in such a way that the dancers are expressionistic figures. This choreography is also a moving sculpture. The Complexions dancers have astonishing bodies from years of training and dedication to the craft. Different heights and body types add another beautiful prism of diversity, which is the foundation of Complexions Contemporary Ballet

Complexions Contemporary Ballet Ensemble. Photo by Sharen Bradford.

The dances have titles that are both amusing and evocative starting with Hissy Fits accompanied by J.S. Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor." Think Phantom of the Opera (1925) with Lon Chaney or other programs in the horror genre. The dance. Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons—Summer" accompanies Choke and Beethoven's Sonata No.14 in C Sharp Minor, Op 27, No. 2 Moonlight is a sensuous dance called Elegy.

The tribute to David Bowie was quite emotional for me. I have loved Bowie's music since the '70s and still treasure my album Aladdin Sane. "Modern Love" seemed to play on repeat on my wedding day as we rushed to get to the church on time back in 1983. Bowie's music is under the category of rock but it defies categorization just as he defied gender norms way before it was acceptable. It was perfect music for the Complexions ensemble and they brought out the emotion through movement. Bowie has always been a major part of the soundtrack to my life.

The second half opened with "Lazarus" from Bowie's final album Black Star and a member of the troupe would lip sync the words. At first, it seemed odd but I believe that was the point of drawing the audience into a complete immersion in the music. Different dancers were embodying a Bowie character for each song and they were all fantastic. I had never seen a man en pointe until Star Dust but it was perfect for Complexions because this company shatters the norms and expectations of what defines ballet. They are to dance what David Bowie is to music and it was a joyous evening of their artistry. I first saw Complexions in the Arpino Chicago Centennial Celebration, which brought dance ensembles from around the nation to celebrate Joffrey co-founder Gerald Arpino's centennial. I was hoping that they would return to Chicago and they did in the most beautiful and soul-filling way.

Complexions Contemporary Ballet's Stardust was performed February 3 at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Ida B. Wells Drive. This performance was part of an ongoing dance celebration at the theater. Check out their website for more spectacular programs www.auditoriumtheatre.org. Also, take a look at https://www.complexionsdance.org for other performances of this extraordinary ensemble. The next time they are in Chicago, get your tickets early. This performance was sold out.

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Kathy D. Hey

Kathy D. Hey writes creative non-fiction essays. A lifelong Chicagoan, she is enjoying life with her husband, daughter and three dogs in the wilds of Edgewater. When she isn’t at her computer, she is in her garden growing vegetables and herbs for kitchen witchery.