Ever since they left Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre 18 years ago to form Complexions Contemporary Ballet, choreographers Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson have been trying to make the next best dance since “Revelations.” Judging from Friday’s performance at George Mason University, they still haven’t found what they’re looking for.
“Rise,” a rock divertissement set to U2 songs that closed out this show (and the troupe’s 2010 Mason performance), certainly isn’t a contender. Most likely, “Testament,” a 2011 suite that includes a not-so-amazing “Amazing Grace” duet, isn’t either. And if only the audience had been spared “Mercy,” a problematic 2009 suite exploring religious tensions.
It’s almost as if Rhoden and Richardson are trying too hard to create spiritually charged dances that, like “Revelations,” will appeal to a broad audience. “Mercy” finds the dancers dressed in billowy harem pants. Twelve company members clasp their hands and hyperextend their arms in supplication as the music toggles among Arabic chants, Steve Reich’s “It’s Gonna Rain” and “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” It’s a disconcerting mix, and the red-clad Messiah figure (D. Gary W. Jeter II, with a strong solo) adds to the bizarre ambience. So do the miniature black trash cans used as props and prayer stools.
What’s never unclear is that Rhoden and Richardson recruit technically proficient, multiethnic dancers who can turn — and turn heads. “Hello, sexy people,” hollers the recorded voice of Bono at the opening of “Rise.” “Show me how to dance.” He can’t see the dancers onstage, but he’s right. Sometimes modern dance should really be that simple.
Ritzel is a freelance writer.