DTLA – During a career that spanned more than 40 years, glam rocker David Bowie made his mark by reshaping the lines of performance. As the man often called a rock-and-roll chameleon transformed his stage persona — think characters such as Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke — the visual components were almost as important as the music itself.
In a similar way, Complexions Contemporary Ballet has built an audience by melding classical ballet with modern dance, proving they are not afraid to mold portions of hip-hop and jazz with long-established terpsichorean traditions. Since its founding in 1994, the troupe based in New York City has consistently muddled the barriers of what a dance company does and what it presents.
Those two worlds come together this week, as Complexions brings StarDust to Downtown Los Angeles. Over three performances on Friday-Sunday, April 20-22 (including a matinee on the final day), 15 dancers will glide across the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion stage, paying homage to Bowie by combining powerful dance with the euphoric sounds of one of music’s few true trailblazers.
For Desmond Richardson, Complexion’s artistic director, the performance is an attempt to capture in a new form what made Bowie so special to so many.
“He was just super theatrical at moving people and he was visually stunning,” said Richardson.
The performance is the brainchild of Complexions’ choreographer Dwight Rhoden, who founded the company with Richardson. Tickets start at $34.
The program begins with the performance “Bach 25,” set to the music of composer Johann Sebastian Bach. The 30-minute piece will explore the relationship between love and alliances.
After intermission, it’s all about Bowie. Acting almost like a time machine, the ballet will take the audience through Bowie’s four-decade career, with dancers performing to nine of the late artist’s hits. The show opens with “Lazarus,” off Bowie’s last album, Blackstar. There are also stops at “Changes,” “Modern Love” and “Young Americans.”
The 90-minute performance (including intermission) is awash with glam rock-inspired garb designed by longtime Complexions costume designer Christine Darch, and is patterned after some of the quintessential images of Bowie’s career. Think the iconic flare of Ziggy Stardust, or the feathered look of Diamond Dogs.
“They are very colorful in their delivery,” Richardson said of the outfits. “They will speak to the differences of David Bowie.”
Richardson said the performance evolved out of Rhoden’s adolescent appreciation for Bowie’s flashy nature and toe-tapping tunes. Rhoden had mulled penning a love letter of sorts to the musician’s work for some time, but after Bowie’s death at the age of 69 in 2016, he decided it was the right time to push forward and complete the program that would ultimately become StarDust.
“It became a poignant time to pay tribute to a guy who had the courage to inspire so many,” said Richardson, who is also a longtime Bowie fan.
StarDust debuted at the Detroit Music Hall just six months after Bowie’s passing, with subsequent stops in New York City and Hawaii. The performance opening at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion marks the West Coast premiere of StarDust and Complexion’s fifth time at the Music Center.
“We’re just excited to be coming back to L.A. and to bring back our brand of dancing to this community,” Richardson said. “There is a commonality with Complexions and L.A. and we would like to continue to draw on that in the future.”
The show is somewhat of a different turn for the series known as Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center. Now in its 15th season, it frequently relies on companies doing classic works. While it also delves into contemporary dance, productions built off artists such as Bowie are not par for the course.
That said, Michael Solomon, vice president of education and presentation at the Music Center, said Bowie’s inherent theatricality plays well for a ballet. He thinks StarDust is a perfect way to honor Bowie’s legacy and influence, and is a fit in Downtown.
“David Bowie could tell a story not just through music,” Solomon said. “It would make sense to create a dance work around David Bowie’s music. He was the first on so many levels and brought to the forefront new music styles, new movements, and outrageous costumes.”
Despite his influence and accomplishments, Richardson admits that a number of the younger dancers in Complexions were not very familiar with Bowie’s work when StarDust was being developed. They were given the task of throwing themselves into Bowie’s eclectic catalogue to get up to speed. Richardson said that helped the troupe fully grasp how much of today’s music drew from the tastemaker.
Exposing another generation to the artist was a “beautiful experience” Richardson said.
“All that you think is original and new has already been done by these masters, like a David Bowie,” Richardson said.
Now, Complexions will have the opportunity to share Bowie with an even wider audience.
StarDust runs Friday-Sunday, April 20-22 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., (213) 972-0711 or musiccenter.org/complexions.