January 28, 2020
When the floor opened for questions in Anjali Amin’s talkback on Complexions’ Joyce season, there were mostly comments. An enthusiastic follower of the company was quick to praise artistic directors Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson for pairing two impossibly different pieces – Rhoden’s Bach 25 and his latest, Love Rocks.
I sat dumbfounded, wondering how even a non-dancer might see these pieces as distinct, as my experience of the evening largely entailed recalling a perhaps reshuffled collection of the very same moves in 2017. This time, beyond the tired trademarks of sliding into space like Tom Cruise in Risky Business,, or the willy-nilly upward cranking of legs, a more particular gesture, consisting of a standing lunge, over which the torso pitches forward as a continually downward flicking hand is carried by the upstage arm from the dancer’s front to backspace, appeared identically in both pieces.
Surely this gentleman was simply tricked into seeing two distinct pieces because the music was so divergent. It is admittedly quite the contrast from a bunch of disjointed, aggressively recorded selections of Bach, to a medley of Lenny Kravitz sexily preaching about love, morality, and his need to “get away.”
But then how could one ignore the additional parallel of Christine Darch’s costuming? In both pieces the exposed torsos of the men (which, it should be noted, as presented, includes one non-binary performer) are adorned with a kind of sleeve, which, halfway through, is removed, meanwhile the women are consistently left in unflattering leotards without even a bit of mid-drift exposed.
Still, there are aspects of Love Rocks that could be seen as developments from Bach 25. The women get to shed skirts alongside the men’s sleeves. Tim Stickney is costumed differently from the rest of the men, generating a satisfying, if under-realized, sense of “other.” Even partnering begins to become not so homogeneously heteronormative in organization.
This doesn’t do much, however, to mask the continued reliance on male / female-presenting couples, operating within a gay patriarchy where men are free to dance with each other while the women wait in the back until their counterparts are ready to resume. They additionally can only seem to be onstage unaccompanied for about two eights before the bare torsos come out sliding yet again. The biggest casualty of this gender dynamic is Jillian Davis, so tall and powerful she should be lifting literally any other dancer in the company, instead subjected to men who can barely handle her in timing that forbids her to dwell in her fullest expanse.
It turned out this superfan was merely touched by Love Rocks’ occasional use of social dance movements. It allowed him in, he said. Maybe I should get out more.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews