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Howard Fine Arts Dancers Join Forces With Complexions Contemporary Ballet

Courtesy of the College of Fine Arts. Fine Arts students with Complexions co-director, Desmond Richardson, and founding member, Christina Johnson.

Howard’s dance students and Complexions Contemporary Ballet put on an unforgettable performance in a dance concert titled “Vivify,” hosted in the Ira Aldridge Theatre. 

Complexions co-founder, Desmond Richardson, has been in residence at the Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts, meaning he has had the opportunity to put their choreography skills to the test. He and his co-founder, Dwight Rhoden, have taught intensive courses on their contemporary ballet dance style for the past semester. 

Senior dance major, Domenique Ross, shared that this experience stretched her as dancer. 

“It was an amazing process working with Desmond Richardson. I believe I’ve grown so much within these three weeks. My purpose was to be intentional with who I am as a Black artist. I think it’s important because Howard is a historically Black college with a dance program that we cherish the art that was first established,” Ross said. 

Both Richardson and Rhoden are Alvin Ailey graduates who have received accolades worldwide for their contributions to the dance world. Given their ties to the university, according to Richardson, Howard was the only place to return to teach. 

“Dean Phylicia Rashad and Dean Thompson got in touch with us and said ‘Would you be interested in sharing some information with our Howard students, and we were like, uh yeah, when?’ Because we get a chance to do this around the world, it is very special to come to an HBCU and specifically Howard because I used to live in DC, and Dwight’s family is from DC, so it’s a really great continuum.” 

Every movement in the performance, whether in contemporary ballet or African dance, was deliberate. Each scene was accompanied by heartfelt music that reflected African Americans’ existence and experience. 

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Junior acting major Zora Allison felt proud to call the dancers her classmates. 

“I felt really proud watching the show; I loved seeing my friends and classmates perform. I loved the variety of types of pieces and how versatile the dancers are,” she said. 

When viewing dance, the goal is to align the dance with your emotions and desired message perception. The significance of this particular show is that this will be the first time their hit piece, “Black is Beautiful,” will be performed on a stage.

The original piece was recorded during the pandemic. The intensity of institutional racism and injustice is depicted in “Black is Beautiful” in a powerful, abstract way. It’s uplifting, sincere, and displays a message that honors Black people’s strength, magnificence, and resiliency throughout history. 

The film includes poetry by four well-known British poets: Terrell Lewis, Aicha Therese, Mr. Reed, and Poetess Jess. It is set to the spoken word composition of the same name.

“Black is Beautiful” was made during the pandemic. We were trying to reflect on personal space and what it does to folks. Also, speaking to the diaspora of blackness, Who are you? Where are you? We worked with these particular poets from England, and it just came together. You can find the meaning in the poetry this the dancers are being intentional with the poetry and their movements,” Richardson said.  

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Jamyra Lasalle, a senior dance major from New Orleans and performer in the exhibition, believed this was her perfect opportunity to prove herself as a senior.

“We’ve been given the biggest opportunity this semester to find ourselves and see what we like the most. This semester was so fulfilling. We got to train and learn so many different styles of dance. With me being a senior, this was important for me to see who and where I’m going as a dancer,” she said. 

After the College of Fine Arts students were done dancing, the audience had the opportunity to watch the dance company perform its piece called “Snatch Back,” which is a 40-minute choreographed dance. 

Standing ovations followed the performance, and the students were overjoyed to see their dedication pay off.

Copy edited by Chanice McClover-Lee

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