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Laguna Dance Festival’s “Gather Round,” a collaboration of Complexions and Lee Rocker, premieres Sunday online

By DIANNE RUSSELL

The worlds of dance and rockabilly come together in “Gather Round,” a collaboration between Laguna resident Lee Rocker of Stray Cats fame and the award-winning Complexions Contemporary Ballet. The nine-minute performance features three songs from the Grammy-nominated upright bass player, singer, and songwriter’s current solo album Gather Round.

Commissioned by the Laguna Dance Festival, this first iteration of a full-length ballet by Complexions using the music of Rocker will be world premiered online as a free event starting Sunday, April 25 at 5 p.m. To watch the trailer, click here.

“Gather Round”

Performed by Brandon Gray and Larissa Gerszke, “Gather Round” will be presented in three short duets to Rocker’s songs: “Gather Round,” “The Last Offline Lovers,” and “When Nothing’s Going Right.” It’s a rousing, tongue-in-cheek nod to the timeless genre that is rockabilly. The piece finds its inspiration musically “in the pocket” of the rhythm and soul of Rocker’s spinning double bass, and distinct vocals. “Gather Round” is a colorful expression of movement that connects, expresses, and celebrates the joy of living life, in all of its complexities. 

Since 2005, the award-winning Laguna Dance Festival has presented world-class dance performances in theaters, on film, and public spaces, reaching thousands annually, and exposing new audiences to professional concert dance. 

Laguna Dance Festival is a nonprofit organization deeply dedicated to the arts and community. The organization is committed to collaboration, dance presentation, and education through an artistic lens that strategizes innovative ways to commission artists, educates young dancers, and unites people of all ages and cultures.

Laguna Dance Rocker

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Photo by Alex Solka

Laguna resident Lee Rocker 

This performance is the result of the collaboration of Rocker, Laguna Dance Festival Founder and Director Jodie Gates, and Founding Artistic Director of Complexions Contemporary Ballet Choreographer Dwight Rhoden.

“It came about in a collective and organic way,” says Gates. “I was speaking with Dwight and Desmond Richardson [Assistant to the Choreographer] about their use of music and how dynamic it is when they use music from rock bands and/or vocals. It helps the dancers shine.

“Since the 1980s, I have been of fan of Lee Rocker and The Stray Cats. I knew he was a resident here in Laguna, and when I met him and his wife, I discovered they were fans of Complexions. That’s the kernel of how we started this project.” 

Broadway World says of Complexions, “It is one of the finest of Contemporary Ballet Companies in America.”

Complexions has received numerous awards including The New York Times Critics’ Choice Award. It has appeared throughout the U.S. and several international locations. 

Complexions Contemporary Ballet

Together, Rhoden and Richardson have created an institution that embodies its historical moment, a sanctuary where those passionate about dance can celebrate its past while simultaneously building its future. In the 27 years since its inception, the company has born witness to a world that is becoming more fluid, more changeable, and more culturally interconnected than ever before. 

“I’ve known Jodie for years and have also met Lee Rocker before – for years, he’s been very supportive of the company,” says Rhoden. “I really love the piece and let him know that and Jodie came to me with the idea. The full-length piece will include the entire company and take half of an evening. The energy of the music allows us to go in the direction of a full cast. I really want to present this work in the full piece and continue to collaborate with Lee who has been incredibly generous with his music and his time in support of getting this filmed.”

Laguna Dance filming

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Photo by Katie Mollison

Filming of “Gather Round” – Brandon Gray and Larissa Gerszke

Rocker has nothing but praise for the performance. “I went to the filming – it’s a beautiful rendition – they captured the emotion as well as the visual representation.”

The Laguna Dance Festival has a long history with Complexions.

“Contemporary Complexions was our first company in 2005,” says Gates. “They are considered our family, and we’re so happy to bring them to the community. They are very joyful, and we all need joy and a sense of community. This is for all of us a way to bring that back to the community. Everything fell into place beautifully. Lee Rocker released his new album Gather Round in January. We had been thinking about a collaboration for a long time, and we connected the dots. Everyone has been absolutely wonderful to work with. It is so contagious.”

Lee Rocker

Rocker made his mark singing, playing, standing on, spinning, and rocking his giant upright bass in the legendary music group The Stray Cats. Grammy-nominated, The Stray Cats have sold nearly 10 million albums and garnered an astounding 23 gold and platinum certified records worldwide. Founded by Rocker, Brian Setzer, and Slim Jim Phantom, The Stray Cats remain a radio staple, were music video pioneers at the infancy of MTV, and repeatedly brought rockabilly music to the top of the charts.

In 2014 he was inducted into the Bass Player Hall of Fame. Rocker has received numerous honors for his contributions to music and the arts, including being inducted to the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, the Long Island Music Hall of Fame, and he is a recipient of the Visionary Artist Award by the City of Laguna Beach.

Laguna Dance album cover

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Submitted photo

Rocker’s new album “Gather Round” 

“It was really a little bit of a surprise,” says Rocker. “I’ve been a fan of Complexions Contemporary Ballet since I saw them 11 years ago at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. I loved them and enjoyed going to performances before the lockdown. I went to the Joyce Theater in New York and saw them dance to Lenny Kravitz’ music. It was fantastic. Then a few weeks later, I got a call from Jodie and Dwight, and we started to talk about how we could make it happen.

“The timing was fabulous. I had just released my latest album Gather Round and it all fell together. I’m thrilled and honored that they chose to choreograph and dance to music from my newest album Gather Round,” says Rocker. “Thank you for the incredible choreography, dancers, and concept. The team of Dwight Rhoden, Jodie Gates, Desmond Richardson, Brandon Gray, and Larissa Gerszke have truly captured the essence and emotions of my music in a unique and innovative way.”

Mutual admiration

“Desmond and I have been big fans of Lee’s work for a long time,” says Rhoden, “and I have always wanted to create a ballet to his music. Thanks to both Lee, Jodie, and the Laguna Dance Festival, Complexions finally gets that chance. Dance and rockabilly music have always been a perfect match in my mind, but actually getting into the studio and watching the dancers get swept away by the pulse and thump of his music has been so rewarding. The spirit of Lee’s new record Gather Round is contagious, and so inspiring.” 

Laguna Dance dancers

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Photo by Katie Mollison

Complexion dancers Brandon Gray and Larissa Gerszke

Gates says, “When we set out to commission a new work in the middle of a pandemic, we could not have imagined bringing together a more exciting group of artists. Lee Rocker’s new music Gather Round combined with exquisite dancers from Complexions and the stylish choreography by Dwight Rhoden is a multidisciplinary celebration of what the future for the arts can look like as we move together into the world of live theater post-pandemic. The world premiere of the video April 25th is just the beginning of a longer work we are committed to commission from these artists in the 2022 Laguna Dance season in Orange County.”

Rocker explains that the longer version will run 20 minutes and have additional songs included with the original three. “We are still talking about the music and what we will add – whether it will be from the album or go back to my catalog.”

Moving forward cautiously

Although the pandemic wiped out live music and dance, Rocker has national and international concerts planned for the near future. “It’s the longest I’ve been off the stage since I was 13 years old,” he says. 

“We’re very excited about the two events coming up over the next several weeks – the launch of the film and the summer intensive in June,” says Gates. “We’re looking forward to moving ahead slowly and cautiously.”

“Gather Round” credits – Choreography: Dwight Rhoden; Music: Lee Rocker; Costume Design: Christine Darch; Filmed by: Jacob Hiss; Edited by: Jacob Hiss & Dwight Rhoden; Assistant to the Choreographer: Desmond Richardson and Clifford Williams. 

The full-length ballet, for which other details are TBA, will be performed in 2022 in Laguna Beach (venue TBA).

For more information about The Laguna Beach Dance Festival, go to www.lagunadancefestival.org

For more information about Complexions, go to www.complexionsacademy.com.

For more about Lee Rocker, go to www.leerocker.com.

 

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