Dwight Rhoden residency comes at the right time for CSU dancers

Screenshots of CSU dancers in rehearsal with Dwight Rhoden via Zoom.

While so many performing arts opportunities have been halted due to the pandemic, the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance at Colorado State University is thrilled to offer dance majors a virtual residency with Dwight Rhoden, co-founder and co-artistic director of Complexions Contemporary Ballet, located in New York City, New York.

For Madeline Harvey, assistant professor of dance, CSU dance majors have shown remarkable resilience, flexibility, and humanity amidst the upheaval caused by the pandemic. Their work and spirit reminded Harvey of Rhoden’s choreography.

“I wanted to be able to give the students back some of the inspiration that they had been giving me since last March,” she said about arranging for the special guest.

“One of the most sought out choreographers of the day.” — NY Times

During the spring semester, Dwight Rhoden will work with CSU dancers in online rehearsals, and give a Nique masterclass, followed by a career-minded Q&A session. The residency culminates with Rhoden’s piece “Across the Universe,” performed by CSU dancers in the Spring Dance Concert.

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  • Nique masterclass with Clifford Williams — March 20, 12-1 p.m.
  • Q&A session with Dwight Rhoden — March 20, 1-2 p.m.
  • Open rehearsal for Across the Universe with Madeline Harvey — March 22, 4:30 p.m.
  • Spring Dance Concert Livestream — April 8 & 9, 7:30 p.m.

Zoom session registration and livestream tickets are available at dance.colostate.edu.

Level up

Harvey has a long-time connection with Rhoden, whom she met as a young student at Charlotte Ballet (formerly North Carolina Dance Theatre).

“Watching Desmond Richardson perform Dwight’s choreography for the first time, I had never witnessed such physicality, control, and abandon,” Harvey remembers. “Dancing Dwight’s choreography for the first time was even more transformative.”

“Rhoden’s work is post-Balanchinean choreography, a new aesthetic in movement, stage, picture, and performance concepts reflecting a post-modern, techno-savvy worldview." —Dance Magazine)

According to Harvey, the intensity and specificity of Rhoden’s movement demands dancers to be daring, vulnerable, poetic, and athletic in a single instant. His choreography pushes dancers to new levels of technical and artistic achievement.

guest artist
Guest artist Dwight Rhoden provides feedback to CSU dancers during a rehearsal of “Across the Universe.”

Rhoden’s online residency started earlier this semester over Zoom when he visited CSU dancers rehearsing “Across the Universe.” This excerpt from Rhoden’s larger ballet, Beatle Juice, is a tribute to the Beatles’ music and the rock and roll era. Harvey had the honor of being in the studio with Rhoden as he created Beatle Juice in 2001, and later performed the work in 2014 as a principal dancer with Hernan Justo’s Carolina Ballet Theatre.

“It is incredibly special to now see our students exploring this work,” Harvey said.

Dance major Abbey Mann in the 2020 Fall Dance Concert. The junior is also a member of Canyon Concert Ballet.

For junior dance major Abbey Mann, working with Rhoden is an “unbelievably” unique opportunity. “He is widely known and loved in the dance world,” said Mann, admitting that at the first rehearsal, the students were a little star struck.

Harvey was not surprised that Rhoden was able to coach intricate details during the first rehearsal and offer customizations to fit the dancers.

“The excitement was palpable as his presence was felt across geographic and digital space,” she said.

“Getting to learn his choreography and receive feedback from him has added an extra spark of joy and motivation to our repertory class,” said Mann.

Colorado dancers are invited to experience Complexions Contemporary Ballet’s vibrancy during a Nique class, which combines classical and contemporary vocabulary into a valuable training method for pre-professional dancers. Led by Clifford Williams, the class is most suitable for intermediate/advanced dancers, but all levels are welcome to observe and participate in the Q&A with Rhoden.

Grateful for the opportunity

In addition to Harvey’s desire to provide something extra special for her dancers this semester, there were other factors that initiated the extraordinary residency.

As a program, CSU Dance has been intensively examining its own practices. It is committed to creating the most diverse, equitable, and inclusive community possible. Rhoden and Complexions Contemporary Ballet embody these values, and have been leaders in removing boundaries and celebrating all identities.

"From its inception, Complexions’ mandate has always been to spotlight diversity, in its performers and its subject matter." —L.A. Times

CSU sophomore Saphire Gomez in the Fall 2020 Dance Concert

Another reason for connecting with Rhoden was the adaptability of “Across the Universe” to CSU Dance’s COVID-19 distancing protocols. To ensure students’ health, dancers each move within their own 12’x12′ box, masked, and without physical contact. Rhoden graciously allowed Harvey to reconstruct the second part of the piece, originally a partnered duet.

“I am very grateful to Dwight Rhoden, and to our Director of Dance Emily Morgan, for making this opportunity possible,” Harvey said.

Her students couldn’t agree more.

“I have had an incredible time working with Dwight Rhoden,” said sophomore dance major Saphire Gomez. “Having the opportunity to perform his work has been invigorating and has pushed my limits as a dancer in all directions.”

About the guest artists

dancer DWIGHT RHODEN (Founding Artistic Director/Resident Choreographer of Complexions Contemporary Ballet) has established a remarkably wide-ranging career, earning distinction from The New York Times as “one of the most sought out choreographers of the day.” Rhoden has performed with Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, Les Ballet Jazz De Montreal, and as a principal dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. He has appeared in numerous television specials, documentaries and commercials throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe, and has been a featured performer on many PBS “Great Performances” specials.

Since 1994, Rhoden’s choreography has been the lynchpin in the development of the Complexions repertory. He has been praised for his prolific body of work, visionary style, and boundary-breaking sensibility. He has created more than 80 ballets for Complexions, as well as numerous other companies, including Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, The Arizona Ballet, The Aspen Santa Fe Ballet Company, Ballet Gamonet, The Dance Theater of Harlem, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, The Joffrey Ballet, Miami City Ballet, New York City Ballet/Diamond Project, North Carolina Dance Theater, The Pennsylvania Ballet, Philadanco, Minneapolis Dance Theater, Phoenix Dance Company, Sacramento Ballet, Oakland Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theater, The Washington Ballet, and Zenon Dance Company.

Widely known as “a dancer’s choreographer,” Rhoden has worked with, coached, and created for some of the most diverse artists spanning the worlds of ballet and contemporary dance. “Rhoden’s work is post-Balanchinean choreography, a new aesthetic in movement, stage, picture, and performance concepts reflecting a post-modern, techno-savvy worldview.” (Dance Magazine) He has directed and choreographed for TV, film, theater, and live performances, including So You Think You Can Dance, E! Entertainment’s Tribute to Style, and Cirque Du Soleil. He has also worked with artists such as Prince, Lenny Kravitz, Kelly Clarkson, and Patrick Swayze.

Rhoden is the resident choreographer of North Carolina Dance Theatre, and has lectured, taught, created works for and served as artist-in-residence at universities around the United States, including New York University, Juilliard, and The University of Mississippi, where his 2004 Racial Reconciliation Project was credited as a catalyst for dialogue in a community that has been historically divided. He is a 1998 New York Foundation for the Arts Award recipient and beneficiary of the 2001 Choo San Goh Award for Choreography. In 2006, he received The Ailey School’s Apex Award in recognition of his extensive contributions to the field of dance.

dancerCLIFFORD WILLIAMS (Company Repetiteur/Artist-in-Residence) attended The Ailey School and The School of American Ballet, both on scholarship. He was a first-level recipient of a National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts award in 1998, and attended The Juilliard School, where he danced works by many choreographers, including Lar Lubovitch, Igal Perry Hans Van Manen, Jose Limon, and Mauricio Wainrot. In 2001, he was invited to join the Dance Theatre of Harlem, where he danced until 2003.

In 2004, Mr. Williams joined Complexions Contemporary Ballet (New York, New York). He has danced works by Rhoden, William Forsythe, Nicolo Fonte, and Jae Man Joo. Since 2004, Mr. Williams has assisted Rhoden on numerous projects, including ballets for North Carolina Dance Theater, Pittsburgh Ballet, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, The Diana Vishneva Project, Ballet San Jose, Israel Ballet, Teatro Dell’Opera Di Roma, as well as for the television show “So You Think You Can Dance.” He has also set Rhoden’s works on The Ailey School/Fordam University, Boston Conservatory, Harvard University Marymount University, and NYU Tisch School for the Arts.

In addition to setting works for Rhoden, Williams is certified in teaching “Nique,” the official Contemporary Ballet technique of Complexions Contemporary Ballet; he continues to be a part of educational outreach for Complexions. In 2008, he became a principal dancer with Compañia Nacional De Danza, under the direction of Nacho Duato. Mr. Williams rejoined Complexions in 2009, dancing as principal until 2012, when he was appointed artist-in-residence. In 2014 Williams was featured in Debbie Allen’s “The Hot Chocolate Nutcracker,” which aired on BET Network. He is was in the cast of the 2016 Golden Globe-nominated Starz Network Mini-series “Flesh and Bone.” Most recently, Mr. Williams performed as featured principal character “Meyer Wolfsheim,” alongside soloists from the Mariinsky Ballet, in an international production of The Great Gatsby, choreographed and directed by Rhoden.