How we teach partnering
Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson with students Amanda McCormick and Jeffrey Duffy
Redefining the classical pas de deux, Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson push partnering to new limits. Swooping lifts, twisting limbs and gravity-defying balances have become signatures of their company’s style, as their dancers carve through space with sculpted and rubber-band–like bodies. The movement fuses ballet with modern, jazz, street and social dancing—a composite of Rhoden’s and Richardson’s varied dance backgrounds. Since founding Complexions Contemporary Ballet 16 years ago, Rhoden and Richardson have developed a technique that prepares dancers for Rhoden’s dynamic and physically demanding choreo- graphy. This summer at the DANY Studios in Manhattan, 170 students attended Complexions’ three-week summer dance intensive where they explored the concepts of weight, momentum and counterbalance, cornerstones of contemporary partnering.
“Partnering today is not just about lifting the girl,” Rhoden says. “We want to see both dancers extend as far as they can in two directions. Our style is about creating wide, expansive movement.”
In their class, partnering explorations start at the barre. From pliés to grands battements, Rhoden and Richardson give every exercise twice—first classically upright, then using the torso, rib cage and hips to pull off-center. Holding the barre, students learn how to move through extreme positions and use their own weight to counter and balance those positions. “The concepts translate to the center,” says Rhoden, “then, when performing choreography, dancers can go even further.”
Here, Rhoden and Richardson demonstrate a counterbalanced partnering move with summer intensive students Amanda McCormick and Jeffrey Duffy.
Dwight Rhoden performed with Dayton Contemporary Dance Company and Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal, and was a principal dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. He is Complexions Contemporary Ballet’s resident choreographer and has created work for many companies, including Dance Theatre of Harlem, the Joffrey Ballet, Miami City Ballet and Philadanco. Rhoden has also choreographed for Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance” and has served as an artist-in-residence at New York University, Juilliard and the University of Mississippi.
Desmond Richardson was principal dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for eight years and principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre, originating the role of Othello in Lar Lubovitch’s production. He’s performed with the San Francisco Ballet and Ballet Frankfurt in Germany, and his Broadway credits include Fosse (for which he received a TONY nomination) and Twyla Tharp’s Movin’ Out. Recently, Richardson joined the faculty of The PULSE on Tour convention. In 2007, he received the Dance Magazine Award.
Amanda McCormick, 21, is a senior at Point Park University in Pittsburgh, and Jeffrey Duffy, 18, is a senior at Talent Unlimited High School in Manhattan. Both were Division 3 students during the Complexions Contemporary Ballet summer intensive.
Photo by Kyle Froman at DANY Studios in New York