Complexions Contemporary Ballet Detroit Summer Intensive Informance

by Julie Gervais

The one and only. Desmond Richardson teaching in the Complexions WSU Summer Intensive. Photo (c) Meg Paul

The one and only. Desmond Richardson teaching in the Complexions WSU Summer Intensive. Photo (c) Meg Paul

One week. One artistic team: high art, high-wattage, and highly committed. One hundred and twenty-seven supercharged young dancers. This was the week that Complexions came to Detroit.

A combination of good timing and longstanding professional relationships made Detroit the lucky city to be the first to host a Complexions summer intensive outside of NYC. Program Director Meg Paul, who serves as Ballet Lecturer and Company Director of the Maggie Allesee Department of Dance at Wayne State University, helped get the ball rolling. And boy did it roll! The students showed up, in the best sense: ready to work, open to new ideas, and eager to bend their bodies and their brains around the slightly challenging demands of some straight –up Complexions repertory. No modifications, thank you very much.

Desmond Richardson, Co-Artistic Director of Complexions, taught the students along with Sarita Allen, Artist-in-Residence with the Company; Jae Man Joo, Ballet Master; and Christina Dooling & Clifford Williams, both Company dancers.

Friday afternoon, the students presented their week’s work in two scheduled informances in the Maggie Allesee Studio Theatre at WSU. Mr. Richardson introduced each session and spoke of the joy of discovery that flavored the week, and of the boundaries that can be broken when no one has anything to prove to anyone except oneself.

It was a remarkable tribute to the power of showing up. Four levels, grouped after an initial Sunday placement class, dug in on Monday to several of Complexions’ works and pushed themselves to move in ways and at speeds that, it’s fair to say, they probably haven’t experienced before.

The youngest group was first on the program, and they all stepped out with true ear-to-ear grins, not the pasted-on kind. They were completely clear: whatever happened next, they would enjoy every moment. And they did, and so did we. Sections of several ballets – Mercy, Moon Over Jupiter, Rise, and the brand-new Testament – appeared, often several times, as repeated by multiple groups and sub-groups from the various levels. Seeing the same material worked by a range of student ages and abilities is a glimpse into process, a kind of time-lapse view of dancer training. A shoulder ripple is seen as a slight shudder, a larger wave, or a full spasm traveling the entire body. An arc of the torso is at hip level, or dips lower to the knee, or is thrown with daring abandon almost to brush the floor. On professional dancers, these gradations are mostly (and rightly) invisible, and while the joys of watching professional work are many, student performances offer the viewer the chance to come along, just a little, on the journey taken by dancers-in-training, with all their triumphs and their struggles.

Students in the Complexions WSU Intensive: Raquel Mar (L) and KC Shonk (R). Photo (c) Meg Paul

Students in the Complexions WSU Intensive: Raquel Mar (L) and KC Shonk (R). Photo (c) Meg Paul

There was improvisation too, introduced by Jae Man Joo, who calmly announced that he had no idea what was about to happen. No breaks of focus or concentration showed as the young dancers explored paths sometimes all their own, sometimes intertwined with each other, and sometimes involving the first-row audience members. Perhaps the largest goose bumps of the afternoon were caused by a small girl during the improv section. Tiniest by far of all the students, she found herself in wordless conversation of gesture with none other than Maggie Allesee, Detroit’s guardian angel of dance. It would be tough to script a more touching moment.

Soloist Joseph Badalamenti deserves special mention for the electricity generated by his ravenous appetite for movement. Some dancers burn into the retina, in a good way. It will be fun to follow the progress of Joseph and the rest of Detroit’s talented dance students as they make their way.

Meg Paul, Program Director, Complexions Detroit Summer Intensive

dp: Detroit is one lucky city! This is Complexions’ first summer intensive outside of NYC. How did that happen?

dp: And it looks like the program is a big success! Lots of students!

dp: So it sounds like it bodes well for a repeat next year?

dp: Dancers today need to train and become proficient in a wide variety of styles. How do you feel this generation of students is managing to balance all of these demands while still building basic technique?

dp: And how do you and the other teachers feel overall about the level of training of students coming in to the program?

dp: Is there one big change you can single out, in a perfect world, that we can make as dance educators today to improve the overall dance scene?

dp: Overall influence of the television dance scene on theatre/concert dance: positive or negative? I happened to see an interview with Dwight Rhoden after an episode of SYTYCD and the interviewer was not aware of the existence of the Company. How do we leverage the popularity of dance on TV into more overall support?