Star Dust, the David Bowie ballet that will have its world premiere June 18 in Detroit, will be more impressionistic than narrative, but there will be no question about who the piece is honoring, according to its creator.
“It’s an abstraction,” Dwight Rhoden of New York’s Complexion Contemporary Ballet tells Billboard. “We’re basically looking at honoring each song and bringing a visual concept in movement and characterization to them. So there’s an interpretation going on per song, and there’s a thread throughout it but not necessarily a story. I think you’ll see a great love for the artist himself, and it’s really paying tribute to his incredibly wide-ranging career.”
The version of Star Dust that will make its bow at Detroit’s Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts is a bit of a trailer for what Rhoden really has in mind. Commissioned during the early spring and announced in May, Star Dust will be about 35 minutes long and feature all 15 of Complexion’s company dancers performing routines to Bowie favorites such as “Space Oddity,” “Changes,” “Modern Love” and “Life on Mars?,” as well as “Lazarus” from Blackstar, which was released two days prior to Bowie’s death on Jan. 10. But Rhoden plans to expand Star Dust into a longer, full-form theatrical piece that will dig even deeper into Bowie’s career and cultural impact.
“The dream is to do a full-evening work, but this is what we had the time to develop right now,” explains Rhoden, who was already thinking about a Bowie piece before his death. He hatched the Star Dust plan with Music Hall’s Vince Paul, a longtime Complexion support and the company’s onetime booking agent. “In 35 minutes you cannot tell [Bowie’s] entire story, but I think this piece I’m starting with will touch on his catalog and all the different ways that he expressed himself, musically and theatrically. He was certainly a musician, but he was so much more.”
Star Dust will also pay homage to Bowie’s varied and ever-changing look as well as his music. “You won’t see it verbatim, but you will see influences from many of those characters and the way he changed throughout his career,” Rhoden says. “We’re not going to dress up like Ziggy Stardust, but you’ll get the vibe when we’re into that part of his career.” The piece’s title, meanwhile, was chosen late, after a considerable amount of discussion and pondering.
“I went with Star Dust as a bit of a play on words of one of his most enduring characters/personas, and then relating it to the idea of the dust of an incredible ‘star’ whose prolific catalog was often both ahead of its time — and timeless,” Rhoden explains. “I feel he was more of than just a musician but a cultural icon that chronicled the world around him. Bowie left us with so many vivid remnants and particles of his magical journey that working to his music reveals a world of fantasy and performance that seems to create an aura of the many pieces of himself.”
Rhoden has not heard from anybody in the Bowie camp about the project. He’s hoping to have it in Complexion’s repertory for the 2016-17 season, and he’s also confident that it will surface widely in the near future. “We’ve had quite a bit of inquiry about it, so I’m really looking forward to going further with it,” Rhoden says. “I’m always looking to the next step, but I’m dead in the middle of this piece right now — which I’m having an amazing time doing, But, yeah, I’m looking at what will be the next step because as I dig into it daily and work on it, I’m just like, ‘Ah…!’ So, yeah, I really can’t wait.”