Seeing Complexions Contemporary Ballet without Desmond Richardson is both good and not. On the downside, he’s one of the world’s great dancers and his absence leaves a gaping hole that is impossible to fill. The upside is that he no longer looms over the rest of the company like an Olympian. This is a problem with companies that are founded around stars. Their overwhelming talent has an unfortunate tendency to make everyone around them look painfully ordinary. Without Richardson’s blinding light, this engagement becomes an opportunity for the rest of the company to be evaluated without distortion and it’s a great company of superb dancers.

Terk Waters and Natiya Kezevadze © Moira Geist
Terk Waters and Natiya Kezevadze
© Moira Geist

The show opened with Gutter Glitter, a brand new work by company founder Dwight Rhoden which was brilliantly lit by Michael Korsch. The stark, top-down lighting enhanced the incredibly athletic physiques of this troupe and created an almost mystical atmosphere. The program notes describe this as the first installment of the Collage Series. It didn’t seem to have a unifying theme but it was full of powerful dancing from the whole company. Guest artist Natiya Kezevadze paired with Terk Lewis Waters in some breathtaking duets. They are both tall and long-limbed and they were visually impressive. Waters is now the de facto top dancer among the men but he fits in well and he doesn’t seem like a creature from another planet the way Richardson does. Larissa Gerszke stood out for her impressive musicality which is tied to a powerful body that crackles with energy. At one point there was a trio of the company’s three tallest women with gorgeously towering Jillian Davis in the middle. The collective effect was thrilling. I doubt if three such women have ever been put on stage together like this. Each of them has a distinct style and when they moved together it was riveting. It’s incredibly difficult for very tall women to find dancing jobs and here were three of them, creating dynamic movement and flashing their impossibly long arms and legs. I would have been happy to have an entire ballet centered around them. Gutter Glitter is a fine piece of work but it goes on too long and has too many high points. With so many climaxes and so much energy being thrown around it became fatiguing. I thought the piece was ending at least twice before it was finally over. It finished with an epilogue called So not a… featuring Natiya Kezevadze and Clifford Williams, set to music of Handel. It was passionate and had nice give and take between the pair.

Terk Waters and company in <i>Stardust</i> © Moira Geist
Terk Waters and company in Stardust
© Moira Geist
Rhoden’s David Bowie tribute, titled Stardust, was less successful to me. It had moments of good fun as it wandered down memory lane but Bowie was extremely difficult to imitate and conjuring up his spirit is not easy. He was a changeling. Just when you thought you knew him, you found out that he had become someone else. Most of the dancers in this ballet who tried to emulate Bowie’s different iterations fell short and it felt awkward watching them lip synching with the music. Another shortcoming of the piece was having the women dance on pointe. Several of them looked uncomfortable, as though they were out of practice, and I think this was a disservice to a fine bunch of dancers. Dancing on pointe requires daily work to excel and these women are not classical ballet dancers.

Desmond Richardson will be performing in the gala on Thursday, January 26th, but opportunities to see him are dwindling. The good news is that the company seems ready to face life without him performing and there are a lot of great dancers who are ready to step up.