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Dancing with some super stars

Could there be anything more exciting than to experience the creative energy of not one, not two, but three superior artistic performers at one time, in one production? And what if those three performers are New Orleans favorites Wendy Whelan, prima ballerina of the New York City Ballet, and Desmond Richardson, co-founder and dancer with Complexions Contemporary Ballet, along with Grammy-award-winning New Orleans-born trumpeter, Nicholas Payton?

Wendy Whelan and Desmond Richardson will perform together Saturday night.

That’s what is going to happen Saturday night at the Mahalia Jackson Theater when Whelan and Richardson premier a new work choreographed by Complexions co-founder Dwight Rhoden. The work, commissioned by the New Orleans Ballet Association, is a special tribute to Desmond Richardson, who will be retiring at the end of this season.

“Charter,” set to an original score by Payton, marks the first time Whelan and Richardson have ever danced together and the first time Nicholas Payton has ever played for a live ballet performance.

“What’s really interesting about these two dancers is that they actually hear the music very differently,” choreographer Rhoden says. “Desmond is very bold in his musicality and Wendy is all about suspension. And then, of course, you’ve got Nicholas.”

Many conversations took place among all four participants over many months as they worked together on this 12-minute duet, destined to be the highlight of a high-energy program of contemporary dance. For Rhoden, translating Payton’s music to movements for Whelan and Richardson proved to be an experience that he says was an “embarrassment of riches.”

“Working with artists as seasoned as Wendy and Desmond meant I could give them room to participate and to contribute to this piece,” he explains. “It just wouldn’t have been the same with any other two dancers.”

For more information about Complexions Contemporary Ballet, go to or call 504-522-0996.

Sharon Litwin is president of NolaVie.






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