In the 1998 film “Playing By Heart” Angelina Jolie’s character said, “Talking about love is like dancing about architecture.” During Tuesday’s performance at The Joyce Theater Complexions Contemporary Ballet does just that.
In a program beginning with Co-Founder and Resident Choreographer Dwight Rhoden’s new work “Mercy,” the lighting, designed by Michael Korsch, creates a sacred space for the dancers display of virtuosity and athleticism. As the curtain opens the dancers are completely still as though they are pieces on a chessboard waiting to be moved. Half of them maintain something along the lines of a parallel attitude while the others kneel in prayer.
The movement, set to a voluminous medley of Phil Levine, Michael Murray, Steve Reich, Felix Mendelssohn and Hans Zimmer, is both architectural and sensitive, like a game of Jenga where blocks of wood are removed and replaced with great caution. The music is at times urgent and pedestrian; in this duality Rhoden’s choreographic choices are evident.
If this piece has a corporeal, architectural, counterpart it would be St. Henry’s Ecumenical Art Chapel in Turku, Finland. In “Mercy” Rhoden pays attention to the secular and sanctified and uses them to create a palette of captivating capering, much like the light flooding into the aforementioned chapel. There are more than a few components involved in this, unexpected tempo changes, use of negative space and, of course, his talented dancers; their trust in both Rhoden and each other is glaring as the work progresses in layers of death-defying partner work.
The costumes, designed by Christine Darch, enhance the already perfect bodies with which the Company is endowed (it’s worth making a more pointed reference to the fact that every single member of the company is an Adonis). In particular the plum colored, piped bodysuits that the women wear during the first half of the piece highlights the lean legs and arms of each dancer and plays a stark contrast to the flowing white pants on the men. Gary W. Jeter II’s detachment from the ensemble of religious mongers is also augmented by his “Running Man”-inspired red unitard. Jeter manages to guise this outfit as masculine during his solo with movements reminiscent of a flying trapeze artist (without a trapeze)— a testament to his mesmerizing mesomorphic prowess.
In a curatorial stroke of genius, “Mirror Me” follows “Mercy” like an inquisitive child trying to catch a butterfly. Danced by Patricia Hachey, Natalia Alonso and Simon Silva the piece is a softer and sweeter demonstration of faculty. It seems like that moment in cinema where the lead character is sitting in an empty train, staring out of the window as flecks of dusty light shine on him. The movement, choreographed by dancer Juan-Antonio Rodriguez, is pensive and meditative—zen-like in its precision and timing. Alonso’s plies are particularly slow and decadent, as though she were a spoon slicing into warm pumpkin pie. “Mirror Me” is quite simply delicious.
Somewhat less successful is Rhoden’s duet “Dirty Wire.” The program tells us that the piece is inspired by the “rapid technological advances that have drastically changed the way that we communicate with each other,” but the excerpt seems more like a retrospective to the 1988 film “Tequila Sunrise” than an examination of our global village. Part of the misstep could be the shiny spandex costumes or the headache inducing volume at which the score is played.
Yet there are still elements of triumph in the work. The clean lines and intricate shapes created by dancers Edgar Anido and Christie Partelow play a more sophisticated and eloquent partner to the annoying noise of what sounds like an aluminum pot being banged on.
The fourth new work of the evening, “Atmosphere,” quickly fills the theater with subtle serenity. Choreographed by Ballet Master, Jae Man Joo, the piece has a Charlie Brown quality to it. Though, friendly, familiar and playful the nuances of the movement keep it modern. Dancers move across the floor in syncopated rhythms on forced arch and pointed ankles momentarily replace stretched feet. Attributing to the intimate nature is the way dancers, Christina Dooling, Jeter II, Philip John Orsano, Sabra Perry, Wendy White Sasser, and Clifford Williams, soak up Johann Sebastian Bach’s music like cookies dipped in milk. Williams especially demonstrates a sultry appeal in “Atmosphere,” with his sky-high arabesques and Slinky-like flexibility.
The last piece of the evening, “Rise,” set to a mélange of music by the ubiquitous U2 is certainly uplifting, if nothing else. Although it is an ensemble piece, dancer Orsano keeps it from becoming a gimmicky overload of pomp and ebullience. While the rest of the company puts on their best Vaseline-dipped smile, Orsano is like Mick Jagger in a room full of the Fall Out Boys—Mick doesn’t have to try so hard to be a rock star, he just is. The piece has all the elements needed to get the audience on their feet (which we did before the work even ended): sthenic catch steps, bright costumes, powerhouse tricks and partner work, pop music and rock concert infused lighting. “Rise” is easily another authentication to Rhoden’s ability to wield fundamentals and design something multi-dimensional.
Perhaps not so easily, he is an architect—building beautiful things out of the space and objects around him.