Dwight Rhoden, the co-Artistic Director and co-founder of Complexions Contemporary Ballet, which is traveling to Santa Fe to appear at the Lensic Performing Arts Center on August 2, knows Lenny Kravitz personally. Rhoden was working with another inimitable rock artist, Prince, when Kravitz first saw his choreography. Rhoden’s evening length piece, “Love Rocks,” which will be seen in excerpt in Santa Fe, is entirely dedicated to the music of Kravitz, both hits and B side recordings. I spoke to Mr. Rhoden on August 2.
Q: Tell me about the genesis of the Lenny Kravitz piece, “Love Rocks.”
A: I was actually working for Prince and Lenny Kravitz was the opening act for his concert. I met him that way. We were doing a dress rehearsal at Paisley Park (Prince’s headquarters in Minneapolis). I was relatively young at the time. He asked me to choreograph something for that show, the song “American Woman,” maybe an hour before the show. What am I going to do, say, ‘no’?
Q: Did you dance a solo?
A: No. I was the choreographer. It was a duet for Desmond (Richardson, his partner and co-director of “Complexions”) and Tai Jimenez, who used to be with Dance Theatre of Harlem.
So that’s how I met him. And over the years, I’ve always wanted to do something to his music. I love his music because it has a retro feel. It combines a 60’s and 70’s soul sound with rock. The music is danceable and has a celebratory feel to it.
Q: When you are using music by a live performer, do they have to give you permission?
A: Well, you have to get rights to the music, and he has been amazing like that. He’s very happy because no one has ever choreographed a ballet to his music before. He actually called us backstage on opening night and did a FaceTime with us, congratulating everyone. One of these days he’s going to get to see it live.
Q: How do you pick the particular songs that you have in the piece?
A: That was really difficult because there are a lot of hits. I also used a few songs that are not so well known. I use his latest album, “Raise the Vibration.” There are several dances from that.
Q: How do you turn a bunch of rock hits into a dance?
A: There’s no narrative necessarily, but there’s definitely a journey into music. I start with music from the new album to show where he is right now,, and then we take a trip back. The journey is towards the last piece, “Here to Love.” The entire piece is all about that. We’re all here to love.
Q: This is the 29th year of the company. What do you have up your sleeves for the 30th?
A: We’re in the planning stage, but we’ll definitely have something big.
Q: So let me ask you this. You’ve been doing this for 29 years, and you had your own dance career before this. What is it that you still have to say?
A: I’m still interested in talking about the world we live in.
Q: You just choreographed a piece called, “Woke,” right?
A: Oh yeah. That one is quite edgy and charged. But yeah, that was a moment.
Q: How has your company changed over the years?
A: We’re still doing our original concept, which is about diversity. Spot on. The individuals have become even more individual. There are different looks, and types and heights and strengths. The dancers have always had a strong classical foundation, so that they can move anywhere. And I always pick dancers who have something to say. It’s not enough to do 100 turns or have beautiful lines. That’s great. We need all of that. But your passion and energy are everything. Passion is a big part of what drives this company.