Many choreographers have been blessed to have a muse who inspires their best efforts. Balanchine famously had several of them and each one added something vital to the repertory. A very precious few of those muses inspire a whole new type of movement vocabulary and dance companies are even built around them. Desmond Richardson is Dwight Rhoden’s muse and he’s the reason for the existence of Complexions Contemporary Ballet. That’s both good and bad. The good part is that Richardson has had the benefit of a choreographer who has dedicated his career to creating works on him that are tailor made for his particular gifts. Make no mistake, he is one of the greatest dancers ever to grace the stage and much of the work they have done together is brilliant. But Richardson doesn’t perform as much as he used to even though he remains stunning enough to conjure up William Blake’s great poem:

"Tyger Tyger, burning bright, 

In the forests of the night; 

What immortal hand or eye, 

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?"

<i>Ballad Unto</i> © Nina Wurtzel
Ballad Unto
© Nina Wurtzel
His body is still that of a chiseled Late Greek Classical sculpture, packed with power and perfectly proportioned. He would be impressive even if he didn’t move. The downside is that as he has curtailed his performing the rest of the company has had to pick up the slack. There are many fine dancers in the company but there is no one who can quite do what Richardson does. The closest to him technically is Terk Waters who is long, lean and beautiful to watch. Rhoden’s movement, which evolved out of Alvin Ailey’s signature style fused with ballet, uses a lot of very quick arm movements which is incredibly dynamic on Richardson or Waters but often leaves lesser dancers looking like they’re flailing their arms wildly. The other problem the company faces is that Rhoden’s dance vocabulary tends to become redundant. On this night we had one work by William Forsythe and all the rest were by Rhoden.

Terk Waters in <i>Strum</i> © Nina Wurtzel
Terk Waters in Strum
© Nina Wurtzel
Ballad Unto… was described in the program notes as “an intimate abstraction of LOVE” but love was seldom in evidence and the music was over amplified with the violin causing ear pain in the higher register. There were plenty of great individual moments from Terk Waters who was electric. Ashley Mayeux’s incredible long legs were a wonder while Larissa Gerszke radiated warm appeal but the piece needed more love.

Three pieces in the middle of the program began with Cryin’ to Cry Out which gave us two sweet pas deux of which the one with Ashley Mayeux and Andrew Brader was the better although the choreography was not memorable in either case. Approximate Sonata was the work by William Forsythe which pretended to be a pas de deux cum rehearsal. It featured fine dancing by Jillian Davis and Terk Waters but the parts that were supposed to indicate that they were rehearsing seemed false and fell flat. They’re dancers, not actors, and it showed. The last of the three central dances gave the audience what they came for: stellar Desmond Richardson. He delivered a mesmerizing solo called Imprint/Maya. It was so powerful that it made me aware of how perfectly he's able to realize Rhoden's choreographic vision. Desmond Richardson is a once in a lifetime dancer. In order for the company to continue to grow in the long term they are going to have to learn to live and choreograph without Richardson dancing.

Strum, set to music by Metallica closed the show. I liked the premise but not the realization. These are really strong dancers and this kind of power chord rock and roll should have played to their strength. Regrettably it came across more as lightweight show dancing than heavy metal dancing. The technique of lighting from directly overhead was especially effective. People were running everywhere and throwing a lot of muscle at this piece but in the end, there was too much energy and not enough substance.

Desmond Richardson in <i>Imprint</i> © Nina Wurtzel
Desmond Richardson in Imprint
© Nina Wurtzel
Whilst the dancers of Complexions are strong, a greater variety of works would better showcase their talent. Perhaps the company’s planned expansion (with a home in Atlanta) will open things up.