The Visceral Dance Experience – Guest Post by Missy Lilje

Missy Lilje is the executive director of Happendance in Okemos, hear below what she has to say about Complexions Contemporary Ballet.

Complexions Contemporary Ballet leaps, twirls and bounds into East Lansing on January 19 at Wharton Center for a night of dance that will leave you amazed. Founded by two former members of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Complexions Contemporary Ballet use their bodies in ways you didn’t think were possible.


Ripple. Bound. Flex. Pulse.

Mary Cochran, the great dancer from the Paul Taylor Company, once told me to strive to give the audience a visceral experience, not just a visual experience.


Tighten. Soar. Release. Fold.

Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson have mastered this concept. Have you ever seen them? Even just on a small screen? Have you seen the work of their former employer, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater? If you have had the chance, you know first-hand that they know how to move their observers, literally move them in their seats. Olympic bodies, so superhuman that the mere sight of their physique stills one’s breath. Then the unbounding strength and extension, the control and the rebound; the height and the play. The spectrum of emotional human experience; the abstract and the narrative. It is all there when these men step into the space, and when their dancers step into the space. It is evidenced by the unison breath, tightening calves and subtly bobbing heads of the audience members.


Create. Challenge. Train. Choose.

Complexions has created a new age in contemporary dance. It is the age of the super-dancer. The ability to morph and mold from the heights of classical line, to the grit of the street, the languid spine of modern dance, with an eye toward innovation through it all. The dancers of Complexions are expected to have mastered every nuance of time, space and force as it relates to the physics of their own bodies…maybe with a little help.

Not only have Mr. Rhoden and Mr. Richardson been innovators in creating visceral theatrical experiences for their audience members with choreography, but they are innovating the field of dance training itself. The Complexions Technique is disseminated through intensive workshops held throughout the year at several venues across the U.S. and Europe. This allows all dance students to have access to a transformative mode of dance education that gets at the heart of the physical, mental and philosophical demands required to dance in the Complexions way.


Question. Define. Listen. Observe.

Oh the Complexions way… It’s a way of performing, of creating, of training and a way of being present in the world with others; of making contributions to important conversations; a way of questioning; a way of inspiring, and a way to make sense of our shared experience. Franz Johansen, an expert of innovation, says that, “at the heart of the richest ideas and actions lies the intersection of vastly differing perspectives.” Perhaps the boldest attribute displayed in the Complexions universe is its founders’ fierce commitment to diverse perspectives and multiculturalism. Throughout its history, the ballet world has not been known for diversity. Mr. Rhoden and Mr. Richardson set out to enrich the ballet experience, to inject it with the life and fire and relevance that come when more perspectives are celebrated and expressed.

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Complexions is so very good. Luscious. Exciting. Here is a secret about me: I do not often look forward to seeing a dance company this much. My apathy is a byproduct of a charmed life as a dancer and dance scholar. I’ve worked hard for my critical eye, and it has made me hard to impress. There are many dance productions that I thought were nice or fine, but few actually cause me to have that visceral experience when I watch.  However, Complexions will certainly deliver a concert with everything you could ever want to see: physical virtuosity, eclectic music (from Bach to Metallica!), generous human performers expressing thoughtful ideas informed by diversity.

Go. Just go. See. Dance.


For more information about Complexions Contemporary Ballet visit Specially-priced $15 tickets for MSU students are available at

Posted in At Wharton Center, Dance, Guest Blog, Performing Arts, Wharton Center News

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