Complexions Contemporary Ballet Presents “Gutter Glitter” And “Star Dust” At Joyce Theatre, Saturday, January 28th, 2017, Reviewed
Last year I concluded my review of the Carnegie Hall David Bowie tribute (here) with the legend: “Fuck your idols, this sucked”. I’d seen David Bowie live on stage many times, sometimes he wasn’t great (The Glass Spiders tour was awful) but I had never seen anything as boring and pompous as that disaster. Neither recorded (with the possible exception of Amanda Palmer) nor on stage has anyone managed to do justice to to the multi-media artist that was Bowie.
Complexions’ “Star Dust” is every thing David Bowie deserves. Half way through a dance performance to “Modern Love, ” I turned to True Groove’s Tomas Doncker”, who went to the and disliked the Bowie Carnegie Hall tribute as much as I did, as looked at me, dumbstruck by the magnificence we were watching. These dancers managed to share the essence of Bowie’s ambisexual mental miasmic schizophrenic ever changing vision of himself, so not one person and not one thing defines him: “Star Dust” blows up in movement, swanning out, exerting forward, with dancers like the ridiculously gifted, classically trained Terk Lewis Waters who channels and resurrects Bowie on “Lazarus”. Muscular, sexual, glimmeringly artificial: one part rock star, one part chameleon, a minutely perfect movement towards the infinite soul of the artist.
“Star Dust” is Act 2, Act 1 is “Gutter Glitter”, according to the program notes it is a “discovering the light within darkness”. The music is almost ambient remixes of works from guys like James Blake and Frank Ocean. I’ve seen both musicians in concert and wrote this about James Blake in 2013 (here): “It is lively and enlivened music but it is a bore to watch”. I found “Gutter Glitter” enervating and beautiful -a comment as much on the music as anything else. It was a series of pas de deux as the ensemble comes together and breaks off into twos. The epilogue, with music by Handel and featuring Artist in Residence Clifford Williams, was enthralling even for novice like me, Complexions artistic directors are a choreographer, Dwight Rhoden, and a dancer, Desmond Richardson and this had both: a classicist vision and also a glammy attractiveness. If you add that to their mix of classical and contemporary dancers, Complexions can tackle you from every side with sublime precision.
But I am a music writer and from the moment “Warszawa” rippled into “Lazarus” and I realized the company would also lip synch from time to time, they completely had me. Contemporary dance is not necessarily narrative dance as such, so while the company are telling stories, they really aren’t, except lip syncing to the songs is acting, it adds a dimension to the dancing. This is so clear in a magnificent “Modern Love” which embraces the circular song, brings it around and around and around, while the gorgeous and high energy dancers surround and engage the dance track. The song is so anchored by Niles Rodgers guitar and a relentless beat, by the bleating thrilled up sax and Lennon (as Doncker pointed out: once you know it’s John, you can’t stop hearing him) and the dancers are so flat out overjoyed, they seem to find the doubt in the song and shake it off. Costume designer Christine Darch takes the Aladin Sane motif and sprinkles it onto the group, it is so Bowie and yet it isn’t really, it evokes him the same way those two ears evokes Mickey Mouse. Perhaps even better than “Modern Love” is “Young America” which leads us to the encore: it is the story of the people who are performing, it breaks down the third wall because Bowie’s story of illicit sex and guilt seems personified in the performers.
So far 2017 has existed as some form of dystopian nightmare, even music has had a bad month, and nothing has made me happy except watching the group dance to Bowie songs, “Changes”, “Life On Mars”, “Space Oddity”, “1984”, Peter Gabriel’s take on “Heroes”, “Rock And Roll Suicide” (no, we were not alone) and an encore of “Let’s Dance”. People wouldn’t stop cheering, really. I was at a matinee, an opportunity for children to see it, and the children seemed as enthralled as I was. I don’t know much about ballet, but I know tons about pop culture and I haven’t seen a better example of the ability of pop culture to make people happy since “Harry Potter And The Cursed Child” last year at the Palace.
It closes on February 5th but the Complexions company promises that there will be a second installment till we get a full Bowie ballet. I can’t think of a better tribute to David Bowie, I can’t imagine a better way to present Bowie to an audience.