Conventional wisdom tells us a dancer’s career is short and rather brutal. You traipse from audition to audition before being spat out, bruised and battered, before you’ve even hit 30.

Try telling that to Desmond Richardson. The accomplished dancer and artistic co-director of New York’s Complexions Contemporary Ballet Company started his professional dance career as a teenager in 1987, and is still going strong well into his 40s. His recent performance on the US So You Think You Can Dance was mesmerising — in two minutes, the dance veteran showed up a season’s worth of contestants half his age.

“I started very early. I began my professional career at 17. A lot of dancers have very short dance lives, but I’ve managed to have a long one,” the softly-spoken Richardson told Sydney Star Observer down the line from his New York home.

“Of course, I don’t do every ballet, every night; the body just can’t take that any more.”

Richardson founded Complexions in 1994 with friend and fellow choreographer Dwight Rhoden. The company will visit Sydney next month to perform a mixed bill of current and old work — a ‘greatest hits’, if you will. The pieces are performed to the music of artists as varied as the Rolling Stones, Billie Holiday and Rachmaninov.

“We’re inspired by everything from Nina Simone to hip-hop, from Bach to U2. Music propels creativity, especially for us.” We’ve created pieces that require a little bit of thought to follow the story, or the audience might create their own story, and that’s a wonderful thing.Rather shockingly, seeing as it only formed 16 years ago, Complexions is considered America’s first truly multicultural contemporary ballet company.

Richardson said the process of creating an ethnically diverse company was largely accidental.

“When we started, the multiculturalism of the company really stood out, particularly in America. But our friends were from all over the world. We have friends from Japan, Korea, Cuba and all these other places that we invited to come. It wasn’t a matter of sitting down and saying ‘We need two Asians, three black people…’ ” he laughed.

Richardson’s appearance on So You Think You Can Dance would suggest he’s a fan of the show, and he described it as “a wonderful tool to inspire young dancers”. The show doesn’t just trade in inspiration though — US judge Nigel Lythgoe attracted criticism for favouring more masculine, seemingly heterosexual dancers while denouncing the more effeminate, camp dancers.

Where does Richardson sit on the debate?

“Everybody’s different. Different companies hire different dancers, be they effeminate or masculine. Sure, on stage, when you’re showing a man-woman coupling, I like to see that done well, because there’s an art to that.

“But no matter what your [sexual] preference is, it’s about delivering a story as a dancer  — you always need to be able to do that.”

info: Complexions plays at the Parade Theatre from October 5-10. Tickets through Ticketek.

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