Dance - Complexions Contemporary Ballet Company puts down roots in Gwinnett

Dancers move from NYC to ATL, rather than the other way around

Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson founded Complexions Contemporary Ballet in 1994 in New York City. The group of about 16 dancers tours extensively throughout the world and is renowned for its diversity, both in the backgrounds of its dancers and in the works it performs. Come spring 2016, Complexions will relocate its headquarters to metro Atlanta, leaving only a small administrative presence behind in New York. Audiences will get a glimpse of the company in action when it performs at Gwinnett's Infinite Energy Center on Dec. 30.

It's uncommon to see an evening of dance that contains both a work set to the music of Metallica and a tribute to Maya Angelou, but audiences can expect both from Complexions' upcoming performance, along with works drawing on the company's history, including a piece set to the music of Stevie Wonder.

"I don't think there's anyone out there doing what we're doing," Richardson says. He will be part of the performance onstage in the new Icon Series honoring Angelou as well as behind the scenes.

Richardson and Rhoden have backgrounds in repertory companies and in classical ballet. Rhoden is the company's main choreographer and has created more than 90 ballets for Complexions and other companies, including Alvin Ailey and the New York City Ballet. Misty Copeland has been getting a lot of buzz lately for her promotion as the first female African-American principal dancer at NYC's American Ballet Theatre. Richardson was the first African-American principal dancer at the company and is also a serious celebrity in the dance world. He was a contemporary of Atlanta's own Albert Evans, a much-celebrated dancer at New York City Ballet — and one of the few African-American principal dancers in that company's history — who passed away earlier this year.

Complexions will bring its core group of dancers south, but Richardson says he plans to hire local talent down the line.

"I'm sure later on we will actually hire dancers that are local, as well, because that is the trajectory — to invest in the community," he says. "That's why we want to build a school, the Complexions Academy. We're looking for Complexions to become a destination where dancers from all over the world can come." The company will continue to run summer intensive programs in other cities such as Dallas, New York, and Detroit while it establishes a new home here.

The company's diversity should be a great fit for Atlanta's arts community. Complexions dancers come from as far away as the Philippines, Japan, and Canada, and as near as Miami. Some of the company's dancers have performed in Broadway productions or on the television show "So You Think You Can Dance," others have backgrounds at the Ailey School or Julliard.

Richardson has family in Atlanta and says that was one motivating factor as the company considered where to establish its new home. The group considered Dallas and Detroit, but eventually the encouragement of board members and friends convinced the duo that Atlanta was the right spot to develop roots. After building the dance school, Richardson intends to develop a junior company to nurture younger dancers and get them ready for lives as professionals.

For now, "We're looking forward to learning who is down there, the level of the dancers, it's all super exciting and inspiring," Richardson says.

A major dance company leaving New York City to set up a home base in metro Atlanta is big news. It will be interesting to see how Complexions Contemporary Ballet fits into the fabric of the city's arts community.

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