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Complexions unfurls an exquisite frenzy

Desmond Richardson and Karah Abiog of Complexions Contemporary Ballet performing "Hissy Fits" in January. (ROSALIE O'CONNOR)

Complexions Contemporary Ballet barreled into the Tsai Center this weekend with one of the most physically gifted troupes to hit Boston in recent memory. Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson founded their company 12 years ago, and the two former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater stars have assembled a dynamite troupe of exquisitely lithe and limber dancers with open hips, whiplash limbs, deeply arched backs, and stylistic panache.

Remarkably, only two of the company's 14 dancers (Richardson and Sabra Perry) have been with the company more than a couple of years -- well, maybe not so remarkable given the wear and tear on those hips. But all of them dance resident choreographer Rhoden's taxing choreography as if it were bred in their bones. Rhoden contributes the vast majority of the company's repertoire, which is both a strength and a weakness. His aesthetic uses a stark, arresting movement palette contrasting sharp, clean lines and convoluted curves in quickly shifting dynamics. With an in-your-face brashness and committed muscular athleticism, the dancers unfurl eye-popping chains of movement. Legs and arms slice and dice, seeming to rotate almost out of their sockets. Bodies take to the air with little regard for gravity and spins revolve so fast and clean they seem mounted on turntables. Pieces aren't so much developed as unleashed in a flurry of entrances and exits, manic solos, and brief, intense couplings.

It can be breathtaking to watch, but it's also a little wearing. There's a hyperactive quality to all of the frenetic activity. In Rhoden's new "Hissy Fits," that was clearly part of the aim. But even in slower moments, Rhoden seems to subdivide every beat into busy gestures that ripple and roil, seldom settling in moments of contrasting suspension or stillness. It comes close to virtuosity without heart, except that Rhoden seems to know his committed dancers so well, crafting to their individual strengths, and as they briefly connect, they clearly relate to one another, person to person, not just body to body.

A new dance theater work in progress, "Chapters," had much the same crowded, hyperkinetic frenzy, but it was broken up a bit by a loose narrative context. Set to the infectious grooves of Marvin Gaye, it portrays a group of friends living in New York City, and slight characterizations emerge amid all the hoopla. There's flirting, fighting, pain, and promise. With some deft editing and occasional shifts of pacing, this could develop into a break-out full evening work for the company.

In between these two big works was a series of smaller pieces, including a solo for Richardson that showcased the impact of the veteran dancer's impressive strength and dramatic presence on sheer technical facility. In Rhoden's sparkling "Showman's Groove," Christina Dooling and the nimble Bryan Arias showed how delightful the choreographer's phrases could be put to the service of jazz stylings. The charismatic and ultraflexible Rubinald Rofino Pronk, along with Perry, Ebony Haswell, and Clifford C. Williams, gave a dynamic performance of Jody Gates's enigmatic "Barely Silent."

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Complexions Contemporary Ballet is branching out
"From the start, we knew we had to achieve a signature look," Complexions co-artistic director Desmond Richardson says.