The Pittsburgh Dance Council recently presented Complexions at the Byham Theater and the powerhouse images generated by the company still resonate. I think no one can dispute the terpsichorean brilliance of this company, simply because the dancers are all nurtured in the mold of superartist Desmond Richardson.
At over 40, Desmond performs less nowadays, but is still in phenomenal shape. There was no denying his star power in an all-too-brief solo, “Solo,” created for him by the group’s main artistic voice, choreographer Dwight Rhoden. Despite the short time on the stage, “Fall” still gave him so many artistic choices, all delivered with the utmost clarity. He is one of a few artists who can hold the stage in complete silence, almost teasing the audience. But then his subsequent movements take on an explosive quality, where he manipulates the choreography to develop the sort of impact that energizes the viewer.
When the dancers took on that power in a collective way, the performance erupted like a tsunami, even in “Mercy,” one of Rhoden’s latest and most organized works. He has created six pieces for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, as close to a resident choreographer since Bruce Wells in the early ’90’s, so we havebeen able to follow his development. It was apparent from the start in 2000 that he had a vision, a destination for the dance. The PBT dancers were asked to move beyond their expectations, and the company benefitted from that philosophy, achieving a largesse of movement that consumed the large Benedum Center stage. The PBT dancers were also asked to perform three or four movements per beat, to move beyond their usual neat and clean lines and go off center and beyond. As a result of those demands, they became, on the whole, better dancers. They carried that sense of dance adventure over into other works, even the classical genre.
Rhoden’s choreography has a boldness, an immediacy that captures the imagination. Born in the streets, nurtured by balletic control and unleashed by a free-form approach to contemporary dance, it can sometimes become busy, even overwhelming.
But Rhoden is just reaching his choreographic prime and there was a slight shift visible on the Byham stage. “Mercy” was a powerful rendering of “grace and permanence in the sacred and spiritual deliverance of mankind.” It capitalized on Rhoden’s enormous heart and passion for the art form. But it also showed that he is reigning in his enormous landscape of emotion. As dramatic as it was, he allowed the structured elements to exert more control, and this resulted in a more satisfying visual experience.
Rhoden then provided a brief respite with chamber-sized works, from the male trio in “Gone,” to the William Forsythe-inspired duet, “Momentary Forevers” and a playful quintet, “Moody Booty Blues.” Richardson added a trio for the women, “Fall.” They served as a sorbet before the juicy machinations of “Rise,” set to music by U2.
Rhoden uses his imagination with the broad brushstrokes of film master Federico Fellini. It’s movement that you can taste and feel, but difficult to sustain over the course of an evening. Nonetheless, it is movement that clings to the dancers like a second and skin and the enjoyment is obvious.