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Aspen Santa Fe Ballet hosts Complexions in return to the stage

Choreographer Dwight Rhoden's collaborations with local company go back 25 years

Complexions Contemporary Ballet will perform “StarDust” at the Aspen District Theatre on Thursday in a presentation by Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. (Courtesy photo/Sharen Bradford)
IF YOU GO …

What: ‘StarDust’ by Complexions Contemporary Ballet

Where: Aspen District Theatre

When: Thursday, March 17, 7:30 p.m.

Tickets: Sold out

More info: aspensantafeballet.com

When guest choreographer Dwight Rhoden came to the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet studio in 1997 to create a new work on the upstart company, it began a tradition of creation and commissions that would last 25 years, bring young creators from around the world to Aspen and bringing international acclaim to the locally based company.

This week, Rhoden is back in Aspen with his own 17-member company, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, and again is kickstarting another new era for Aspen Santa Fe Ballet.

Complexions will perform its David Bowie-inspired evening-length work “StarDust” on Thursday at the Aspen District Theatre in a sold-out guest performance presented by Aspen Santa Fe, which dissolved its 11-member company in March 2021 due to economic and performance challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.



The local nonprofit is now focusing on its dance schools and on presenting guest companies. Its leaders are hopeful that Rhoden will bring another auspicious beginning to Aspen Santa Fe with “StarDust” just as he did as its first guest choreographer.

“It will be uplifting and high-energy,” executive director Jean-Philippe Malaty said of the Complexions program when it was announced last month. “We felt that was a good way for us to return.“




Created in 2016, “StarDust” was born in the wake of David Bowie’s unexpected death, when Rhoden found the pop star’s diverse and theatrical music suited the dancers perfectly.

“I thought it was very attractive for making a ballet because, number one, the music is incredible, but also, there was such variety. He was so chameleonic,” Rhoden said in a phone interview before coming to Aspen. “He’s basically done almost every genre — rock, pop, punk, R&B. He’s even gone into experimental alternative stuff. From album to album, he reinvented himself almost every time.”

What it inspired is an exuberant celebration of Bowie and bodies in motion to a score that includes Bowie’s posthumously released “Lazarus” and iconic tracks like “Changes,” “Life on Mars,” “Space Oddity,” “Heroes” and “Young Americans.”

“It’s almost like a mini Broadway show,” Rhoden said, “In dance, of course. It was really fun to put together.”

The Aspen show is the centerpiece of a Western tour that included a Santa Fe stop earlier this week, a show Saturday at the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek and a performance Tuesday in Fort Collins.

The company, founded in New York in 1994, has performed regularly in Aspen — most recently in 2013 — as Rhoden has stayed close with his like-minded Aspen colleagues.

“Our ideas about dance aligned well,” he said of Malaty and Aspen Santa Fe artistic director Tom Mossbrucker, “and it was really fun to make work there over the years. I feel right at home working with them.”

Complexions is forging ahead through the extraordinary challenges facing dance companies — and all performing arts organizations — in the pandemic, the same set of conditions that led Aspen Santa Fe to close its company permanently in spring 2021.

Complexions, after the long pandemic shutdown that began in March 2020, returned to some touring in summer 2021 but has still endured many disruptions and cancellations during the delta and omicron surges, including ending early its two-week run at the Joyce Theatre in Manhattan.

“Since the top of the year, in January, everything has been moving along cautiously but safely, and we’ve been touring quite a bit,” Rhoden said. “It’s been challenging, I’m not going to lie, but it’s been like that for everybody.”

Early in the pandemic, Complexions did virtual performances online and created a popular dance film called “Black is Beautiful” inspired by the movement for Black lives in 2020. During the initial lockdowns, they hosted dance class and rehearsal via video chat to keep the company going and keep dancers connected. Eventually they started meeting in person and in pods for small group rehearsals, expanding the size as public health protocols allowed.

“By any means necessary, we did what we could as safely as we could,” Rhoden said.

As Rhoden looks to the future, he is hopeful that contemporary dance can connect people and can tell the stories of a world transformed by the pandemic.

“What has happened in the world has certainly affected all of us immeasurably,” he said. “I think that contemporary dance is probably more important for the future, because I think we’re looking at the form, questioning, exploring and looking deeper.”

atravers@aspentimes.com


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