Bruce Wood Dance has overcome the loss of its founder to become one of America’s most exciting dance prospects. Lynne Richardson finds out more.
Bruce Wood Dance (BWD) is poised to join the ranks of international touring companies and bring the big heart of Dallas to the rest of the country and beyond. A dynamic, compelling, contemporary dance company, it is built on the vision and prolific output of acclaimed Texan choreographer Bruce Wood.
The company has just signed with promoters KMP Artists, meaning international audiences can expect to see them on global stages in the near future. For now though, the company is focussed on upcoming shows at Dance Gallery Texas, Sam Houston State University in Huntsville (26-28 October); Dance Gallery Festival, Ailey Citigroup Theater (3-5 November); and at Dallas City Performance Hall (17-18 November).
Wood, who passed away in 2014, created works and excerpts that have been described as innovative, engaging, moving and often amusing.
“I didn’t want to be cerebral about making dance, that’s an egotistical thing,” explained Wood back in 2013 in an interview with Karen McDonough, World Arts Today (2013). “We’re trying to communicate without words to make people feel something. If you can make people feel something, they’ll come back. I believe that when you see a performance, your life should be changed – altered in some way. The echo of it should linger with you for days afterwards. I expect that, when the curtain goes up, you should experience something quite remarkable, something magical, something healing.”
Wood himself had a successful dance career before returning to his native Texas “to make dances.” Besides touring internationally with San Francisco Ballet and Les Ballet Jazz de Montréal, he spent many years with American choreographer Lar Lubovitch, including as assistant on Broadway’s Into the Woods. He also guested with DV8 in London and co-created and performed with Canadian icon Margie Gillis. From these powerful influences Wood picked up his own dance identity and formed his own company in Fort Worth in 1996. He quickly acquired a strong following in the North Texas region and subsequently took Bruce Wood Dance Company on three well-received national tours.
“Wood toured his dancers to acclaim,” said Jerome Weeks in a broadcast memorial for KERA Radio in 2014. “He brought cutting-edge clarity, sophisticated style and humour to his work. He choreographed ambitious works to Ravel and Philip Glass, but also tongue-in-cheek dances to Lyle Lovett songs.”
Wood’s original company folded, but was successfully resurrected in Dallas in 2010 as BWD with support from new backers who took over the management and fundraising, allowing him to focus solely on choreography. Sadly, Woods untimely death in 2014 at the age of 53 meant the company had to carry on without its founder.
The job of leading BWD fell to Gayle Halperin, former dancer and philanthropist, who became its producer on Wood’s death. Although he left behind a devastated company and dance community, the BWD team were determined that his legacy should continue.
But how does the company keep Wood’s work alive? To start with, every programme the company presents includes works from Wood’s repertoire.
“I have been in the dance world for 40 years,” says Halperin, when asked why keeping Wood’s work on stages is so important. “The repertoire of this company is transformative and I don’t say that lightly. Its impact is great because it’s about the human experience; about people and their feelings. Our company transforms human nature into dance works that are relatable and relevant.”
Kimi Nikaidoh was Wood’s protégé, working closely together with him since the days of his first company. She returned to Dallas to dance for Wood after a successful career in New York, and is now the company’s artistic director.
Says Nikaidoh: “I always knew Bruce’s work was special, but after living in New York for more than 10 years, touring nationally and internationally and seeing lots of dance, I know it is special. I want to share that work and the new dances the company commissions, with as wide an audience as possible.”
Part of what inspired Wood was his Texan heritage. Dallas has a thriving arts community and an outstanding arts district, the largest in the country. This dynamism greatly appealed to Wood, who was constantly looking to widen the audience for dance and found fertile ground in the district.
“Bruce’s Texas roots said everything about his aesthetic,” said Dallas dance critic Margaret Putnam in the Dallas Morning News (2001). “The vast sky, the dust and dirt, the wind and the heat and the emptiness made a profound impression on him.”
As of May, 2017, BWD is represented by KMP Artists.