Review: Complexions kicks off NextMove dance season

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Ashley Mayeux (left) Andrew Brader of Complexions Contemporary Ballet perform "Amazing Grace" at the Prince Theater on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015. (Photo: Bill Hebert)

A new era for dance swept into Philadelphia with the opening Wednesday night of NextMove at Chestnut Street's Prince Theater.

After a 32-year run at Dance Celebration at the Annenberg Center, Randy Swartz brings Dance Affiliates in its new incarnation, NextMove, back to Center City, where it began decades ago. An important venue change for him and for Philadelphia, it concentrates more dance downtown than ever before, presenting eight companies in its first season at the Prince.

For this inaugural show, Swartz brought back the matchless American dance company Complexions Contemporary Ballet. Founded in 1994 by Ailey alums Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson, the interracial company made its Philadelphia debut in 2003. The incomparable Richardson is semiretired; Rhoden programmed seven of his works for this run.

He opened with Ballad Unto . . ., set to J.S. Bach music for solo instruments. Tulsa Ballet gave it its world premiere last month, and Rhoden since had tweaked it for his own company for this Philadelphia premiere. A 20-plus- minute tinny solo-harpsichord section didn't offer enough complexity for the 14 dancers running on and off stage with frenetically blurring speed.

With multiple combinations from solos to seven couples dancing in sync, the piece achieved some liftoff only once the piano solo began. In fall earth tones, the barechested men and the women en pointe formed patterns as dizzying as leaves swirling in a backing wind, then settled into calmer movements, as though the wind had died down. A difficult section where the women leaned back with arms locked around the back of the men's necks and the men's hands cradled the women's buttocks as they swung them out in circles was polished with precision and not too fast to miss.

Gone, to an Odetta song, showed off three of the company's male dancers, Kelly Marsh IV, Greg Blackmon, and Timothy Stickney, as they found consolation in brotherhood. To a Prince song, Terk Lewis Waters (who pulled much of the weight in Ballad) gave a too-careful reading of the original godlike Richardson Solo to bring it to the boil. Hope he turns up the heat as the week goes on.

It was the crowded finale, Strum, a world premiere to Metallica, that fueled the company's power and fanned its fire. In metallic (what else?) costumes by Christine Durch, the full company of 16 strutted out in successive waves. With one little wink at line dancing, Rhoden's choreography resisted references to club moves, staying classy and sassy, with right arms upraised in graceful flourishes in tours and arabesques.

Jennie Begley, YoungSil Kim, and the lissome Ashley Nicole Mayeux shone sleekly. Marsh repeated an eccentric walk, dragging his toes up and over, giving the program a needed sliver of humor.

Additional performances: 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Prince Theater, 1412 Chestnut St. Tickets: $37-$57. Information: 215-422-4580 or www.princetheater.org.