Complexions Contemporary Ballet takes metro Atlanta stage

Complexions Contemporary Ballet will soon slide onto Duluth’s Infinite Energy Theater stage, making its first Atlanta area appearance in more than a decade. The Dec. 30 performance is part of the company’s plan to expand from its New York home and establish headquarters in Atlanta.

If all goes through, Complexions’ signature virtuosity, performed with do-or-die passion and commitment, is a likely game-changer for the Atlanta dance scene.

The company’s 16 classically trained dancers are steeped in a style that blends contemporary ballet with modern dance, hip-hop and other influences in a spirit of multiculturalism that attracts broad popular appeal.

The style was unique in 1994, when artistic directors Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson founded the troupe and went on to influence the direction of contemporary dance, performing in some 25 countries on five continents and appearing on the television series “So You Think You Can Dance.” Rhoden has created works for numerous companies, including New York City Ballet and the Charlotte Ballet, where he is resident choreographer.

Richardson, who was born in South Carolina, discovered a passion for dance through hip-hop, and later danced with Alvin Ailey, Ballet Frankfurt and American Ballet Theatre while guesting with prima ballerinas and in major films. With his fluid lines, luminous physicality, and captivating expressiveness, The New York Times has called Richardson “one of the great modern dancers of his time.”

But despite artistic accolades, Complexions almost didn’t reach the 20-year mark. In 2014, the company had run for nearly two years without an executive director and for almost three years without a fundraising campaign, said Dorrin Johnson, husband of Richardson’s high school friend Crystal Johnson, and a successful Atlanta-based businessman who returned the company to solid financial ground.

For its 20-year lifespan, the company had rehearsed in rented studio space, but Rhoden and Richardson envisioned having a home, not only for rehearsals, but also as a training ground for the next generation of dancers. They considered several cities, such as Dallas, Detroit and Los Angeles, where they had built strong followings by teaching short intensive workshops.

Then Crystal asked Richardson, “What about Atlanta?”

The transportation hub’s mild climate and lush natural environment were a draw, as well as proximity to friends and family. Atlanta-based board members Su Longman and Tony Conway were instrumental fundraisers. Johnson, now Complexions’ managing partner, oversees administrative operations from the company’s recently established metro Atlanta office.

Over the next year or so, Complexions will rehearse both in New York and Atlanta, Rhoden said, with plans to fully relocate to Atlanta by the fall of 2016. But the organization will keep its Manhattan roots by continuing to perform there and by maintaining a small New York office staff. Complexions still plans to tour nationally and internationally, but with Atlanta as its point of expansion, Rhoden said.

“We see there’s no one like us,” Richardson said, “and perhaps we can add to the phenomenal artistic landscape that’s already there. Students can train in our specific style. They can grow. We can grow.”

Richardson is excited to invest in the Atlanta community, and “in what the audience will feel from this company, so that they can embrace us and call us their own.”

The Dec. 30 performance will feature large-scale works set to music by J.S. Bach, Jimmy Scott and Metallica. Richardson will perform “Imprint/Maya,” a tribute to Maya Angelou to music composed with her writings, including the poem “My Guilt.”

“There’s that sense of immediacy,” Richardson said of Angelou’s words, “where they attack your spirit and soul. It permeates your thought to understand that it’s not just one cultural plight; it’s a world plight. It crosses all cultural barriers, because everybody can relate.”