dancers are not like us. They look better in boy shorts than we ever will, all sinewy thighs and chiseled abs. They have torsos and limbs so flexible it hurts to watch them in play. They are cross-trained in multiple styles, multicultural and good-looking—it's aesthetically pleasing just to watch their hair whip around their cheekbones as they execute multiple turns and big jumps.
It would have been better still to see them dance something more substantive than what we got when Complexions made its Portland debut last night courtesy of White Bird Dance.
Company founders Desmond Richardson
and Dwight Rhoden
come from Alvin Ailey
, one of America's best-loved dance institutions. And Rhoden's work belongs to some of the country's biggest companies. So when Complexions debuted last night at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, seats were full and expectations were high.
There were suggestions of serious intent with Mercy
, an ensemble piece that, like Ailey's Revelations
, took its cues from the gospel. Costumed mostly in white (Judith Jamison's long skirt from Cry
made a guest appearance) and set to church bells, chanting, gospel and a remix of Mendelssohn's Hallelujah Chorus
, the dancers salted beautiful balances and washes of movement with praying and genuflecting gestures. Sound alternated with silence and breath. A sinner in red neoprene strode through the angelic horde until he was hoisted face-up toward the heavens. It seemed fraught with meaning, and yet was strangely unmoving.
At this juncture, it seems worth mentioning that Rhoden has also contributed to So You Think You Can Dance, and elements of this program would not have been out of place there. Moody Booty Blues
– featuring bare-chested men in jeans and women in red slinky gowns and pointe shoes – set ballet to bar blues and looked cheesy, as that combination usually does. Momentary Forevers
, a pas deux for Natiya Kezevadze and Juan Rodriguez, fared better, with sculptural partnering and a corkscrewing turn that set her orange asymmetrical tutu aflutter. The men in Gone
, particularly Clifford Williams, breezed through tilted extensions, fast turns and hip-hop-inflected freezes. It's hard not to love Richardson, whose career has included wonderful dramatic roles, although his solo Moonlight
was reminiscent of a great actor who occasionally over-enunciates or an opera singer who throws in an extra trill because she can.
That left Rise
, a suite of dances set to U2. It opened with dancers facing the audience and running in place because, as Bono exclaims in the opening song, “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “I want to run!” As much as this piece had going for it – shifting stadium-style lighting, a flutter of hands from the dancers during recorded applause – it also had detracting from it. “Desire
” opened with a jolt of excitement that faded as one dancer wandered around playing air guitar, something that, like talking babies or dogs with sunglasses, is never funny and yet persists. Complexions has more to offer than this, so let's hope for a return visit with material that shows its dancers to better advantage.