Desmond Richardson / Photo by Julieta Cervantes

I’m so excited to have been offered press tickets to attend the NYC 2015-2016 season opening night performance for Complexions, the renowned contemporary ballet company. Complexions will be performing three different programs at the Joyce Theater from November 17 through November 29 (tickets are available here). Program A, which I will get to see, includes three NYC premieres (Strum, set to songs by Metallica, Ballad Unto …, which features music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Cryin’ to Cry Out Loud, which draws on the music of renowned jazz singer Jimmy Scott), a world premiere (Imprint/Maya, a new work that pays tribute to Dr. Maya Angelou), and a restaging of a piece called Approximate Sonata.

I was given the opportunity to ask Desmond Richardson, co-founder and partner for Complexions, a few questions. In addition to these roles, Desmond will also be performing Imprint/Maya, a solo piece created for him.

Thank you so much for taking time to answer! I haven’t seen much non-classical professional ballet; I’m thrilled to have the chance to see such a varied contemporary program. I’m bringing a contemporary-ballet friend who dances here in the city, so we’ll be coming from two very different perspectives. Is there a context or mindset you’d suggest a newcomer like me enter with?

My advice to you would be to expect the unexpected of Complexions Contemporary Ballet beacause the company is like no other. Dwight Rhoden and I have worked these past 21 years to create the signature style and brand that Complexions clearly defines. We like to provoke the thoughts of the audience and have them be engaged from the moment you enter the Joyce Theater until the time the curtain closes on the last piece.

Conversely, are there moments or techniques an experienced dancer like my friend might be on the lookout for?

Sure, there are familiar movements the educated dance eye will be able to recognize.

I love the range of musical styles presented in this program. How did these pieces come together, and what is your vision for the evening’s program as a whole?

The musical choices for the program are the choices of our co-founder and  choreographer, Dwight Rhoden. He has a keen sense of how he sees and wants the arc of the evening to flow. After listening to the score of the musical selections, Dwight gains the inspiration of each piece, allowing the music to take hold of him and melds  it with his  creative choreography thus taking the audience on a visual journey through each musical piece.

Ballad Unto… , photo by Bill Hebert / Courtesy of Dance Affiliates

Do you feel that the different types of music create tension, or harmony, or both?

I believe that the different types of music selected create both tension and harmony. I believe this too is one of Dwight Rhoden’s many gifts, he spends hours in preparation listening and deciding which selections connect with his ideas, will fuel the dancers and engage the audience.

The idea of a ballet tribute is novel to me, and yet we honor individuals in movies and theater all the time. I’m excited to see Complexions to extend this to dance with a tribute to Dr. Maya Angelou as the debut of the Icon Series of dances about iconic historical figures. What was the creation process like for this piece, and how did you choose Angelou as the first subject for this series?

The choice to be inspired by the prose of Dr. Maya Angelou was an easy one. Our composer David Rosenblatt (Chronicle / Imprint) was also inspired by her work and created music around a selection of them for us to listen to and immediately we were both on fire for it . We had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Angelou during our dancing days at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and thought how fitting it was to honor her in this way. Her succinct and passionate words permeate not only African American culture but all those who have come in contact with her books. Also, she too loved to dance.

Where will the series go from here?

The possibilities are endless as there are so many formidable people to investigate. We look forward to this continuum.

My only regret with coming to the performance on the 17th is that I won’t have an opportunity to see Chronicle. From the Complexions website:

“Chronicle is a full-company work. Act 1’s wandering narrative is wrought with non-sequential storylines, characters, and images of life’s complexities, and the challenges society is facing. Act 2 is a new production of 2009’s signature work, Mercy, which serves as an answer, reaction, elegy, or lament to the turmoil of contemporary living.”

Would you be able to talk a bit about the development of this work?

The development of Chronicle is interesting as it is the answer to the existing work Mercy that is in the repertory of the company. It is a commentary on the current events of the day where we are challenged with being voyeurs of global happenings daily. The work helps us to understand the plight of all people and have compassion for humanity  which is an immense task but a wonderful endeavor to commit to nonetheless.

Cryin’ to Cry Out, photo by Bill Hebert / Courtesy of Dance Affiliates

I find it fascinating that Act 2 is based on an existing work – that the answer came before the question. I also love the idea that the answer for the challenges we face is mercy! Is there a particular moment, from rehearsals or performances this season so far, that stands out for you as representative of what it’s like to work with this company?

To work with the group of dancers we’ve assembled is a pleasure. To see these young dancers committing themselves to excellence and challenging their norm is both inspirational  and gratifying. There are many moments throughout this season that stand out as representative of our brand of contemporary ballet that motivates us to continue to think outside of the box and challenge what we think we know about dance.

Is there anything else you’d like us to know about the season ahead?

Complexions Contemporary Ballet is looking forward to an exciting season, experiencing new audiences as well as our diehard fans. It is our hope that the public will help us make our 21st season a true success!

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions! I can’t wait until the 17th!

Complexions will be performing here in NYC at the Joyce Theater from November 17 to November 29. Ticket prices range from $10 to $60 and can be purchased here.

Strum, photo by Bill Hebert / Courtesy of Dance Affiliates