Complexions Contemporary Ballet | Photo by Bill Hebert

David Bowie fans, as well as fans of contemporary dance, have a lot to look forward to on Friday when Complexions Contemporary Ballet comes to Louisville. The company will perform two pieces at the Brown Theatre — the first, “Ballad Unto,” is a collection of abstract pas de duex examining love, and the second, “Star Dust,” is an ambitious work set to the music of the late David Bowie.

Insider spoke with Complexions’ artistic director Desmond Richardson about the two pieces and about the longevity of the company, which turns 25 next year.

Complexions’ artistic director Desmond Richardson | Courtesy of Complexions Contemporary Ballet

“Star Dust” is the brain child of Complexions’ second artistic director and resident choreographer, Dwight Rhoden. Richardson recalled their first conversation on the subject.

“Dwight came to me and said: ‘Oh my god, I have this idea, I’ve been listening to David Bowie work,’ and I said, ‘Really?'”

“Star Dust” premiered after Bowie’s death, but work on the piece began prior to the iconic artist’s passing.

“We were hoping he would have an opportunity to come to the show, because we do know his wife, and we didn’t suspect he would not live to see it,” said Richardson.

The piece includes songs like “Heroes,” “Space Oddity,” “Lazarus” and “Changes.” The great breadth of music offered Rhoden lots of choices.

“The hardest thing was the catalog — trying to go through the catalog and go, ‘Well, which pieces of music will work within this 20-something minutes we have?,” Richardson said.

In addition to having more great musical material than they could ever possibly fit into a single evening, another challenge was fitting those songs together.

“The story is in each piece of music that’s being used, from ‘Heroes’ to ‘Lazarus,’ ” he explained. “And then what is the arc of that? The audience is going to go on a really lovely journey through it, and the dancers have a lot of fun doing the work for sure.”

A protean creator, Bowie is known for his many personas and metamorphoses over the years. Complexions’ “Star Dust” plays with those ideas and also explores the androgyny of Bowie.

“There are particular Bowies we’ve pulled out,” said Richardson. “There are male Bowies, there are women Bowies — he was unafraid to show both sides of himself.”

“Star Dust” explores androgyny in each dancer as well.

“We actually ask of the dancers to be open with that, to not close themselves off … you have to just be,” he said.

The company has been around for 25 years. | Courtesy of Complexions Contemporary Ballet

Complexions has taken this work all over the world. Richardson said audiences respond to the way the piece plays with normative gender values.

“They are loving the fact that the males are strong but vulnerable, and the women are vulnerable but strong. It speaks to everything that David Bowie was,” he added.

The evening’s other piece, “Ballad Unto,” is set to the music of a rock star from a different age — Johann Sebastian Bach. Richardson talked about various parts of the piece and how it presents different emotional states: “There’s togetherness and separate, and, you know, discord, then there’s not. So there is all these particular levels that are inside of it, but it’s a more abstract view of it.”

According to Richardson, that movement can powerfully portray love because of movement’s universality.

“The dancers understand the imagery we’re going for and how to evoke that through the movement, so when they touch each other, when they look at each other, all of those things convey the particular emotion Dwight is going for,” he said.

Complexions will perform the songs of David Bowie on Friday. | Courtesy of Complexions Contemporary Ballet

Richardson points to those same dancers when he talks about the company’s longevity.

“We always look to stay current, and the way to do that is engage the younger dancers,” he said. “And they keep you fresh, for sure, because they are looking for new things and new things to do.”

The other key is to keep accepting new influences.

“Staying open vessels is the key,” said Richardson. “Listening to music, living, getting out there, seeing other people’s art, other people’s dance, other people’s music, listening to the current events of the day.”

Though he looks to current events, Richardson said this year the company is letting its message speak for itself rather than looking to be overtly political.

“We always like to think of the world as diverse and inclusive, and that’s the world we want to live in. If we can show that part to all those who in come in contact with us, then we’re that much richer for that.”

Complexions Contemporary Ballet comes to town Friday, Oct. 13, at the Brown Theatre, 315 W. Broadway. The show begins at 8 p.m., and tickets start at $20.

Eli Keel is “pretty much” a Louisville native. You may have seen him around town reading poetry, short stories, dancing or acting. He’s a passionate locavore, so you may have also seen him stuffing his face at one of Louisville’s amazing restaurants. When he isn’t too busy writing short stories, he blogs at amanwalksintoablog.wordpress.com.


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