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Lula Washington Dance Theatre, Complexions Contemporary Ballet pair up

The dance companies will present their own works at the Ford Amphitheatre on Saturday, and unite for one dance during the show.

August 07, 2013|By Victoria Looseleaf

The Ford Amphitheatre can be magical, especially for dance: The tiered performance area, stone steps and verdant foliage seem to heighten the art form's already ephemeral qualities. When L.A.'s Lula Washington Dance Theatre joins forces with New York-based Complexions Contemporary Ballet on Saturday, the alchemy promises to be potent.

As the second and final part of the newly inaugurated Zev Yaroslavsky Signature Series, the pairing of a local troupe with a world-renowned one sounds irresistible.

Washington, whose choreographic vocabulary blends modern dance with African-infused moves, founded her troupe in 1980 with her husband, Erwin.

"That two companies with their own place in the dance world are coming together is exciting," she says, "even though we're different in style and technique."

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Complexions Contemporary Ballet, by virtue of its name, conjures graceful athleticism with the more formal rigors of ballet. Co-founded and directed by Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson in 1994, the 14-member troupe is testament to sculpted lines and a hyperphysical aesthetic.

Rhoden, who has choreographed more than 80 works (often with Richardson as muse), says the double bill is a good match. "Lula's audience will see a different side of dance, and in terms of Los Angeles, we have a following here, so it's great to share audiences."

Each company will present its own works, uniting for "I Wonder Why?" Set to Stevie Wonder music, it's part of a full-length piece Complexions will debut at New York's Joyce Theater in November. At the Ford, one section will feature six dancers from each troupe.

And while Rhoden may be the choreographer behind Complexions — Dance Magazine called his work "post-Balanchinean, a new aesthetic in movement and performance concepts" — Richardson has been the troupe's megastar.

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Now in his mid-40s and once hailed by the New York Times as, "one of the great dancers of his time," Richardson stopped touring with Complexions at the end of 2011. Pursuing a freelance solo career but still active in co-directing the troupe, Richardson agreed to perform at the Ford.

"I try to show up when requested," says the charismatic dancer, who will be seen in an excerpt from 1991's "Moonlight," a five-minute solo about a man contemplating life.

Other Complexions works include selections from last year's "The Curve," and a duet from 2010's "On Holiday." Washington's 10-member troupe, which has been touring internationally and was last seen in a full show at the Ford in 2005, will also perform excerpts, including scenes from 2010's "Love Is."

But a new Washington opus, "Turn the Page," set to Barber and Beethoven, is bound to start tongues wagging. It began as a tribute to Yaroslavsky, the county supervisor whose love of classical music and dance took root as a young boy when he turned pages for his great uncle, a double bassist for touring companies including the Royal Ballet.

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Astonished to learn a dance was being choreographed for him, Yaroslavsky, in a brief phone conversation, said, "It's an honor. This is not something that happens every day to a local politician."

Then again, this is no ordinary concert. Washington, who also makes message pieces addressing African American issues, transitions "Turn the Page" into a response to the Trayvon Martin case, in which  George Zimmerman fatally shot the unarmed African American teen, and then was acquitted at trial. And while Complexions generally steers clear of politics, Rhoden and Richardson are hoping for another kind of connection: becoming bicoastal.

"Formidable dancers — Alvin Ailey, Lester Horton, Carmen De Lavallade — came out of L.A.," says Rhoden, whose troupe last performed at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in 2008. "Incredible dance is still happening in this town, and we'd like to bring our brand here. We feel an affinity for the community."

Why not? There's always room for more dance, especially at the Ford.

Complexions Contemporary Ballet and Lula Washington Dance Theatre

Where: Ford Amphitheatre, Hollywood

When: 8 p.m. Sat,

Cost: $40-$85

Info: (323) 461-3673 or


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