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Originally published Friday, November 13, 2009 at 9:59 AM

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Review: Complexions puts on a cluttered, but crowd-pleasing, performance

Complexions Contemporary Ballet presents a crowd-pleasing, if cluttered, performance at Meany Hall.

Seattle Times arts writer

Additional performances

Complexions Contemporary Ballet

8 tonight, Meany Theater, University of Washington, Seattle; $20-$39 (206-543-4880 or www.uwworldseries.org).

Performance review |

Dwight Rhoden, choreographer and co-founder of Complexions Contemporary Ballet, certainly knows how to open a dance. Each item on the company's program at Meany commences as a striking tableau vivant that, as it comes to life, promises great things.

With the technical wizardry of Michael Korsch to assist him, Rhoden knows how to light his pieces too. In "Mercy," which opens the three-dance program, the effect is grandly architectural: multi-coned tents of light, creating sharply defined spaces out of air, in which the dancers played out their moves.

Rhoden and his fellow artistic director Desmond Richardson also have a fine, energetic troupe at their command: limber, athletic and apparently able to draw on limitless reserves. They need them, because Rhoden's work keeps them going without letup. Indeed, the pace is so steady and the action so busy that it's sometimes difficult for dramatic surprises to emerge from all the fuss.

"Mercy" (2009), however, has real narrative tension. Its chorus of dancers, dressed in gauzy white, are met with an interloper in red (Gary W. Jeter II) who repeatedly casts himself — "levitates" is more like it — onto a bed of rising hands ... hands that support him up on high, just when he should fall.

The movement around him is a high-speed origami of limbs, accompanied by waves of appearances and vanishings (Korsch's lighting magic at work). The score — a hectic collage of everything from church-organ hymns to pounding soundtrack effects to a radio preacher's shouted exhortations — adds to the relentless feel of the dance.

The result can feel cluttered, except when Jeter returns to focus the action, or when Edgar Anido, a compact lion a of dancer, launches into a weightless solo inflected with breakdance rolls and angles.

If "Mercy" is largely an ensemble piece about a loner's encounter with the crowd, then "Dirty Wire" — a world premiere — is a study in tentative coupledom.

Again the opening is stunning, as the curtain rises on 12 dancers in rigid single file, facing downstage, framed by two columns of light. That sharp line soon melts into fluid anarchy which, in turn, crystallizes into pairings of male and female.

In the series of duets that follows, the dynamics of the movement — approach, entwinement, support, escape — are intricate and rigorous. But there isn't much psychological detail or dance-style variety to differentiate one couple from another."Rise" (2008), set to songs by U2, is another ensemble piece, full of calisthenic energy. Rhoden has worked with pop stars and Cirque du Soleil, and there's too much rock-video vocabulary in his moves here for my taste. Still, the dancers' enthusiasm and energy pleased the crowd, which gave them a standing ovation.

Michael Upchurch: mupchurch@seattletimes.com

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