Complexions Contemporary Ballet brings socially conscious work to Music Hall

By Erica Hobbs
Special to The Detroit News

Complexions Contemporary Ballet returns to Detroit’s Music Hall Saturday with “Woke,” a full-company ballet that examines social injustices at the forefront of today’s political climate. The term “woke,” derived from “awake,” is an awareness to social justice issues.

 Dwight Rhoden, choreographer and co-artistic director of Complexions, described the work as a physical reaction to the daily news.

 “It turns a mirror on society and brings those issues to the forefront,” he said. “You kind of walk away with whatever you’d like to walk away with, you just have those issues presented to you.”

While the concept of “woke” is often an awareness to racism, Rhoden said the ballet reflects a wide array of issues including LGBTQ rights, gun violence, corporate greed and the #MeToo movement.

He said the work was inspired by everything going on in the headlines and the activism of today’s generation.

“They really want their voices to be heard and will seemingly stop at nothing,” he said. “Activism is at an all-time high.”

The ballet is set to a remix of music by Kendrick Lamar, Logic, Drake, Diplo, Bill Evans and more.

“It’s quite pointed and charged,” Rhoden said. “It’s a high energy work that is really bold and somewhat in your face.”

“Woke” is a co-commission with Music Hall that made its debut in New York City in 2019, though this will be its first performance in Detroit. Music Hall President and Artistic Director Vince Paul said the organization is in the business of supporting artists, and the piece aligns with its mission of diversity as it relates to social justice.

“I knew it was a good fit," he said.

"Woke" by Complexions Contemporary Ballet.

In addition to “Woke,” the program will include a series of smaller pieces from within the company’s repertory. It will lead off with a student performance, the culmination of the company’s week-long dance intensive for young aspiring dancers.

The performance will take place outside in Music Hall’s brand-new amphitheater located next the theater.

"The overall experience of seeing a production like this outdoors in this setting is an added bonus,” Paul said. “It's the first time that we know of that a major piece like this has been presented outdoors in our city.”

While “Woke” is a thought-provoking piece, Rhoden said the program offers something for those just looking to experience something beautiful as well.

“The first act is really dance for the sake of dance,” he said. “You’re going to get to see some beautiful dancers’ bodies moving through space in a creative way. There is also something there for you to take away.”

Complexions Contemporary Ballet will take place at 8 p.m., Saturday, July 31 in the amphitheater adjacent to the Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts at 350 Madison Avenue, Detroit. Tickets start at $25 for general admission seating and are available at