Complexions of (the way life ought to be)

Posted on 23 Jan 2009 at 12:34am
By ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

Dance icons — and former life-partners — Desmond Richardson and Dwight Rhoden’s innovative work will inaugurate dance at the Winspear

MOTION, EMOTION
Winspear Opera House,
2403 Flora St.  October 29–30
at 8  p.m. $19–$127. Titas.org.



ON YOUR TOES Complexions’ co-artistic director Desmond Richardson continues to dance for the troupe he co-founded — but this may be the last chance to see him dance live.

As the co-founder of Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Desmond Richardson probably shouldn’t say this, but he does anyway.

"There’s nothing really new in dance," he declares.

Before you imagine he’s being a defeatist, thinking the unthinkable, consider: Richardson still believes in dance’s power to transform. Nothing new? Maybe. But there is greatness to be explored nevertheless.

"It’s all variations on a theme — it’s how you place it. That’s where Dwight’s range comes in. The way he puts things together is unique to him. He finds ways of investigating movement."

"Dwight" is Dwight Rhoden, Richardson’s co-founder, co-artistic director and chief choreographer for the troupe, for which Richardson still serves as a principal dancer. Together, they have turned Complexions into one of the most acclaimed and innovative dance troupes to emerge in the last quarter century. The company is currently celebrating its 15th season, and will help inaugurate the Winspear Opera House with two performances next week, presented by TITAS. ("[TITAS executive director] Charles Santos is a dear friend of mine and he told me [the hall] is wonderful. We are so honored to come and be part of it," Richardson says.)

Richardson and Rhoden both emerged "from the island that is Alvin Ailey," as Richardson puts it. But while they learned much from Ailey — the legendary Texas-born modern-dance choreographer, who died of complications from AIDS 20 years ago — Complexions has always been its own beast, often called dance’s first multi-cultural troupe.

"We’ve been called that and we accept it," Richardson concedes. "Dance is pretty segregated. We have dancers from all over the world — Cuban to Korean to African-American. Many companies don’t do that. There may be a sprinkling of color in many companies, but we like it to be altogether. We want that organic thing."

That also means that while the company is "steeped in classicism," it incorporates genres from all over the world for a unique view of the art of movement.

Richardson certainly has worked in nearly every discipline. He got his first commercial gig as a teenager when he was cast as a dancer in Michael Jackson’s "Bad" video, and went on to work with Madonna, Prince and other music icons. He nabbed a Tony Award nomination in 1999 for his performance in Fosse and worked with Twyla Tharp on Movin’ Out. He has even choreographed for So You Think You Can Dance.

But it’s his association with Rhoden — professionally and they personally (they were a couple for 18 years, though they split nearly seven years ago) — that has most defined his career.

"We are family. We are blessed. But it could have been very different," he says. Both are in other relationships now and continue to work closely together — sometimes scarily so.

"We’re definitely like the Coen Brothers," says Richardson of the collaboration, referring to the filmmakers famous for the seamless way they work together. "We can sense each other, and we definitely had that thing from the word ‘go.’ I bring my range of dance styles — I started as a street dancer, hip-hop, pop and lock — and Dwight can choreograph anything from Broadway to classical. We both meet there, at the minds. We have appreciation for the same things … although I am very linear and he is not, which can be quite frustrating."

Nevertheless, they have always been eerily united in the synchronous way they have created their work, even when it’s difficult to put a finger on.

"The inspiration can come from anyplace. Sometimes it’s a thought, sometimes it’s music, sometimes it’s a word," he says. "It’s what we’re trying to say at that moment, talking about where we want to go."

This will probably be Richardson’s last season as a dancer for the company, but he will continue to bring his vision to Complexions artistically.

"What I have taken from each one of [my mentors] is being in the moment and expressing the passion," he says. "They all want commitment and individuality and excitement. Ultimately, it’s about what comes across the footlights."                     

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 23, 2009.

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