by Erica Hobbs
Lovers of both ballet and jazz are in for a rare treat this weekend with the world premiere of Complexions Contemporary Ballet company’s “Blood Calls Blood,” performed at New Orleans’ Mahalia Jackson Theater. Presented and commissioned by the New Orleans Ballet Association (NOBA), the work features choreography by renowned Complexions co-founder and co-artistic director, Dwight Rhoden, performed live to the music of New Orleans jazz great Chief Adjuah (formerly Christian Scott).
“Dwight’s work is so incredibly visceral and powerful and technically demanding, and it pushes the boundaries of the artform in every single way possible,” said NOBA Executive Director Jenny Hamilton. “It is exciting, it’s challenging, and the technique of the dancers is phenomenal.”
Rhoden said the four-dancer abstract work explores lineage with a sense of connection and evolution.
“It’s about what came before you, and what comes next,” he said. “It’s about how we experience legacy and legacy-building, and also our individual imprint that we make in the world, and how that is factored into the total journey that we have as people.”
Adjuah is a two-time Edison Award-winning and six-time Grammy® Award-nominated trumpeter, multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer, with deep roots in New Orleans’ cultural heritage. He is the nephew of celebrated saxophonist Donald Harrison, Jr. and the grandson of the legendary Big Chief Donald Harrison Sr., who led four nations in the City’s masking tradition, as well as a graduate of New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.
Adjuah is known for creating “Stretch Music,” a genre-blind musical form, which attempts to “stretch” jazz’s rhythmic, melodic and harmonic conventions. Rhoden said the eclectic style drew him immediately and matched the multicultural root of Complexions.
“That was attractive, because that’s kind of what I do with my work,” he said. “My work is contemporary ballet, you see classical influence, but the movement is all over and has so many different influences.”
The piece features music from Adjuah’s latest album “Bark Out Thunder Roar Out Lightning,” which he described as “calls to the Emancipatory energies of the venerated ancestors and self-liberated leaders of the African Diaspora and Maroon systems of America.” He will perform it along with three other musicians.
Hamilton said Rhoden and Adjuah aren’t afraid to push boundaries and were a great artistic match.
“[They are] willing to draw upon their backgrounds and their roots but expand their art forms in a way that really progresses the art form itself.”
“Blood Calls Blood” is Rhoden’s second work with NOBA, following a 2012 commission that paired legendary dancers Desmond Richardson and Wendy Whalen with Grammy® Award-winning instrumentalist, Nicholas Payton.
Both works are part of NOBA’s post-Hurricane Katrina commissioning initiative to match world-renowned choreographers with New Orleans jazz musicians. The works make their world premieres in New Orleans – performed to live music – before touring with their respective companies. The initiative both invests in local musicians and shares the music of New Orleans with the larger world.
“[We wanted to show after Hurricane Katrina] what makes New Orleans special and why the investment in the city [was worth it] to bring the city back after such a devastating storm,” Hamilton said.
“Blood Calls Blood” is one of several pieces to be performed in Saturday’s program, which includes a series of excerpts from Complexions’ repertoire, plus “Love Rocks.” The latter is a full company work set to the music of Lenny Kravitz.
“The piece is really all about love and his message that is throughout all of his music,” Rhoden said. “It’s a feel-good [piece], it has an uplift in it, and it is physical.”
Hamilton said the program as a whole offers a range of Complexions’ work.
“It’s crafted so that audiences of all ages will really love it with classical to rock,” she said.
Although based in New York City, Complexions has a long history with New Orleans. The company has performed regularly in the city since its founding nearly 30 years ago and also teaches within the community. After Hurricane Katrina, Hamilton said Complexions donated most of its services to perform and help bring back dance to New Orleans.
“There is a very special connection between the company and this organization and a bond with New Orleans,” she said.
Rhoden said Complexions is a company based on diversity that combines various cultures and body types where everyone can see a bit of themselves on stage that people should come to see.
“On every level we try to make sure that we’re honoring what it is that we do, which is bring together seemingly different things, put them under one roof and watch them work together in a harmonious way,” he said, “which always delivers our message of unity.”
Tickets for Complexions Contemporary Ballet with Chief Adjuah (formerly Christian Scott) range from $41 to $201 (fees already included) and are available for purchase at www.nobadance.com. Discounts for seniors (65 and over) and students are also available.
Groups of 10-19 patrons receive 10% off the regular ticket price, and groups of 20 or more receive 15% off the regular ticket price. Please call NOBA at 504.522.0996, ext. 201 to book your group today.