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Dwight Rhoden Shares His Insights on Complexions Dance Company

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Here at Dandelion Chandelier, we’re passionate about dance. So whenever we get the chance, we catch a performance or conduct an interview with a luminary in the dance world. We recently pulled up a chair for an interview with brilliant dancer and choreographer, Dwight Rhoden and heard the story of the Complexions Contemporary Dance Company.

Who is Dwight Rhoden?

Years before he co-founded Complexions Contemporary Ballet, dancer and choreographer Dwight Rhoden first discovered his love of dance at his high school’s dance competitions. He was eighteen, and though he hadn’t had much experience with the artform before, he was naturally drawn to it.

“I was a person who moved a lot,” he says.

Complexions Contemporary Dance Company
Interview with dancer choreographer Dwight Rhoden and preview of the season of Complexions Contemporary Dance Company. Dwight Rhoden. Credit Photo: Rachel Neville.

For these competitions, Rhoden also had to come up with his own dance routines – and so, he became a kind of choreographer at the same time as he became a dancer. Though many performers will discover their love of choreography later in their careers, this sounds like a natural beginning for Rhoden, for whom the desire to create art was always central.

How he became a professional dancer

Fortunately, he received encouragement from a professional dancer at Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, who urged him to visit the local studio.

After that, Rhoden was hooked. “I saw an artform that was organized, and disciplined,” he says, describing what appealed to him. “At that point, I just kind of never looked back.”

He was brought in to train and to join the company, and from there his career took off – after performing with Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, he traveled the world, danced with other companies, and eventually made his way to the iconic Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. It was there that he met close friend and Complexions’ co-founder, Desmond Richardson.  The two began to collaborate – Rhoden choreographing, and Richardson dancing.

Complexions Contemporary Dance Company
Interview with dancer choreographer Dwight Rhoden and preview of the season of Complexions Contemporary Dance Company. Desmond Richardson. Photo Credit: Rachel Neville.

And though they had not set out to start a dance company together, that was what happened next.

“We were just going to do a one-time project where we got all our friends together,” Rhoden says. “And it was so exciting, what came about in that process, that we looked at what we created and thought ‘this is really something special,’ and thought we should take it further.” The year was 1994.

28 years later, Complexions Contemporary Ballet is still going strong. Rhoden says that although they’ve changed over the years – becoming more structured, for one thing – their core values have remained the same.

“Complexions has really stayed on track with what and who they are,” he says. And who they already were in 1994 seems like who many others are aspiring to become in 2022.

Complexion Dance Company is Diverse

For one thing, Complexions has always been a diverse company, from its earliest days.

“It wasn’t even really about anything but the beauty of having different types of people under one roof and making art,” Rhoden says. It was always an innate part of their creative process.

Complexions has also set itself apart by creating work that speaks to the present moment.

“Complexions is a very current company, and it has stayed current, throughout all these years,” Rhoden says. “We talk about what’s going on in the world. We want people to see who they are on stage.”

Complexions Contemporary Dance Company
Interview with dancer choreographer Dwight Rhoden and preview of the season of Complexions Contemporary Dance Company. Jillian Davis. Credit Photo: Rachel Neville.

Rather than offering an escape from the world outside the theater, Complexions offers an interpretation of it. They offer performances that allow the audience to feel like their lives and experiences are in some way being reflected back to them.

Rhoden says that with most of his dances, he starts by figuring out what he wants the piece to say. The process includes a lot of writing and thinking, and then he begins to put those words and thoughts into movement.  He also always has the audience in mind.

“There always needs to be a touchpoint,” Rhoden says. “You want your audience to buy into what you’re doing.”

He says that movement – dance –  is perhaps unique in its ability to reach people. “There’s something very special about dance,” he says, “because we, as people, move every day. It’s relatable.”

And this relatability is what makes dance such an ideal vehicle for the kind of work Complexions does – work that reflects the world around it. If an audience can become immersed in the movement of bodies on the stage, their minds can open, and they can more easily process the wonderful and painful truths of their real lives.

From November 22nd to December 4th, Complexions Contemporary Ballet will enjoy their 28th season at the Joyce Theater. The theme for this year’s program is “embrace.”

Interview with dancer choreographer Dwight Rhoden and preview of the season at the Joyce in NYC
Complexion Contemporary Dance Company. Photo Credit: Rachel Neville.

“There’s a lot of visceral physicality,” Rhoden says, describing the season. “And I think there’s a lot of beauty, and a lot of love in what you will see.” However, he says that the season does not shrink from also presenting the antithesis of beauty, and of love; the challenges that everyone may face at one time or another.

“I think that it’s a relatable season in many ways,” he says. “I hope that people will feel something.”

Included in this year’s season are Jae Man Joo’s Serenity, William Forsythe’s Slingerland Duet,  and Francesca Harper’s System. There will also be three pieces by Rhoden – Hissy Fits, Snatched Back from the Edges, and a new piece, Endgame/Love One.

Snatched Back from the Edges was originally conceived of as a film series, but unfortunately, the pandemic prevented its completion; only the first of those films, Black is Beautiful, ever got made. Rather than saying goodbye to the rest of the material, Rhoden transformed Snatched Back from the Edges into a ballet.

“It was tough,” he said. “We did a lot of things on zoom, like everybody did. And then when we were able to meet, we were only able to meet in twos and threes.”

The piece is in many ways about human resilience, and it seems fitting that this same resilience became a part of the dance’s own creative process.

Interview with dancer choreographer Dwight Rhoden and preview of the season at the Joyce in NYC
Thomas Dilley. Credit Photo: Rachel Neville.

And for those who are looking for what comes after resilience, Endgame/Love One is all about those next steps. Though it doesn’t feature a narrative. This piece is set to popular music, by artists like Kendrick Lamar, Post Malone, Drake, and Panic! At the Disco – offers a meditation on life and love, and how society can begin to move into the future.

We know that we are lucky to live in a world with Complexions Contemporary Ballet – a group whose work shows us not only who we are, but also all that we can be.

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