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Maya Angelou in dance: How Complexions Contemporary Ballet will put poetry in motion

Maya Angelou in dance: How Complexions Contemporary Ballet will put poetry in motion
Ashley Mayeux, a dancer with Complexions Contemporary Ballet. The company will perform Friday through Sunday at at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. (Rachel Neville)

Complexions Contemporary Ballet is known for taking on timely social issues via music and movement, and the New York company's upcoming three nights in Los Angeles are no exception, particularly a piece inspired by Maya Angelou.

The Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center series is set to host Complexions on its return to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion from Friday through Sunday. The company, which has been called "America's original multicultural dance company," will present the West Coast premiere of "Imprint/Maya," celebrating Angelou during National Poetry Month.

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"It's our third time at the Music Center," Complexions founder and co-artistic director Desmond Richardson said. "We are surprised and honored by the audiences that keep coming to see us."

The company features a multicultural cast of 14 dancers trained in both classical and contemporary dance who will perform six pieces. "Imprint/Maya" was choreographed by Complexions co-artistic director Dwight Rhoden, and Richardson dances in it. The music is by David Rozenblatt, a composer who plays percussion for Barry Manilow. It is set to the words of Angelou.

"The words of Dr. Angelou cross all sorts of different barriers. People can take her words and see what they mean to them," Richardson said. "Her work bridges different genres and ethnicities. It permeates the soul. It's heart-wrenching and it's very much storytelling."

Complexions is celebrating its 21st season, although Richardson said that he has worked with Rhoden even longer than that.

"It's nice to have a choreographer who understands you," Richardson said. "His dances are like Salvador Dali paintings. There are many different movements going on at the same time, and what I see may not be the same as what you see."

From its inception, Complexions' mandate has always been to spotlight diversity, in its performers and its subject matter. Today, Richardson said, he's pleased to see that there has "been a surge in adapting and embracing diversity" in the dance community.

"In auditions we look for dancers who have a uniqueness and just happen to be Japanese and black or German and Chinese because that's where America is at this time," Richardson said. "It is those backgrounds that make up our United States. That's the beauty of it — we're all here now."

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Complexions Contemporary Ballet

Where: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave. L.A.

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: Start at $34

Info: (213) 972-8555, www.musiccenter.org/complexions

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Twitter: @jessicagelt

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