Dallas — Very sad news in the dance world: Bruce Wood, the choreographer who changed the landscape of local dance and ballet when he formed the Bruce Wood Dance Company in Austin in 1996, moving it to Fort Worth in 1997, has died at age 53. Here's what the folks at Bruce Wood Dance Project, the new edition of his company that resurfaced in Dallas in 2011 (the original BWDC shuttered in 2006) have released:
"Esteemed choreographer, friend, and master teacher; Bruce Wood experienced complications from pneumonia and died of heart failure, with his family by his side, on Wednesday, May 28. His death was sudden and unexpected. He was 53.
Wood was a maker of dances that had tremendous impact on thousands of lives. As artistic director and sole choreographer of Bruce Wood Dance Company from 1996-2007 and Bruce Wood Dance Project from 2010 – current, the work lives on. The next BWDP performance carries-on at the Dallas City Performance Hall on June 12-13, 2014.
He is survived by his mother and two siblings. The family has asked that donations be made Bruce Wood Dance Project (www.brucewoodance.org) in lieu of flowers."
The June 12-13 performance will go on as scheduled. A new contemporary ballet by Wood, called Touch, will be paired with a favorite from Wood's Fort Worth days, the hauntingly beautiful Home. Wood was also on board to choreograph a production in the Dallas Theater Center's 2014-15 season, the football/dance drama Colossal, a replacement for which will be announced later.
“All of us at Dallas Theater Center are heartbroken by the news of Bruce Wood’s passing," writes DTC Artistic Director Kevin Moriarty. "Bruce was one of North Texas’ leading creative artists. The depth of emotion he brought to his choreographic work was matched by his immense technical skill and compositional brilliance. He was a great source of inspiration for audiences and artists alike and he elevated the artistic life of our community."
Wood was born in Fort Worth on Aug. 3, 1960. Early in his career, as a teenager, he danced with New York City Ballet under George Balanchine, then with San Francisco Ballet Company and Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal. He worked with Lar Lubovitch on the Broadway debut of Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods in 1987. He returned to Texas and founded the Bruce Wood Dance Company in Austin in 1996, and then moved the group to his hometown in 1997. The first local performances were at the now-gone JFK Theater at the Fort Worth Convention Center, and soon moved to the newly opened Bass Performance Hall.
Over the years, he developed a corps of well-trained and expressive dancers, and choreographed such notable works as Bolero, Follow Me, The Only Way Through is Through, and Home. His Texas roots were evident in dances such as Dust, Texas; the comically touching Lovett!, which used Lyle Lovett songs; and Cowboy Songs, for which Michael Martin Murphey performed his own songs live. He incorporated wit into works of breathtaking beauty and deep complexity without overthinking; raw emotion took precedence over the intellectual and aloof. In 2012, he presented his long-talked-about all-male ballet, I'm My Brother's Keeper. That work was reconceived for a longer program in 2013, in which Theatre Three's Jac Alder made an appearance. (See video below.)
Wood has also choreographed for Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Texas Ballet Theater, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Southern Methodist University's Meadows Dance Ensemble, and other companies, as well as for the 2011 and 2013 "A Gathering" events, presented by TITAS and featuring collaborations with many local arts groups paying tribute to those lost from HIV/AIDS. He most recently created a dance, Love, B, for Ann Williams, the retiring artistic director of Dallas Black Dance Theatre. He worked with local theaters as choreographer and director, including Circle Theatre and Lyric Stage, and even the long-running musical Texas! in Palo Duro Canyon.
Dancer Doug Hopkins, who joined the company early and quickly became Wood's go-to guy for comic movement, thanks to Hopkins' rubbery limbs, says Wood's strongest attribute as a choreographer was his ability to find his dancers' individual strengths and use them.
"As a teacher and a choreographer, he brought movement out of us that none of us thought was possible," Hopkins says, who performed with the first program of the newly formed Bruce Wood Dance Project in Dallas.
"When he came back, in Dallas, there was a softness that I didn’t see before, and he was more willing to open himself up and be a little more organic than he had been before," Hopkins says.
Charles Santos, executive and artistic director of TITAS, has known Wood since the '90s. Bruce Wood Dance Company was the only local group TITAS presented on their subscription season, back when the organization used McFarlin Auditorium, because Santos knew Wood's work needed to be seen outside Fort Worth.
"Honestly I think he’s one of the great talents in our cultural landscape; he has a very unique vocabulary, and has references to the talent he has worked with, from George Balanchine to Twyla Tharp and Lar Lubovitch," Santos says. "He took his influences and created a very unique artistic voice. ... I think we were just rediscovering his talents in Dallas, and there were big things to come."
Booker T. Washington graduate Christopher Vo, now a New York-based choreographer who danced with Bruce Wood Dance Project in 2013 and also created a tribute to Ann Williams, wrote on Facebook: "Dear Bruce Wood, thank you for being the wonderful artist you were; and through your artistry, revealing to us the tenderness and incredible beauty that lies beneath the surface."
Wood had a new artistic life in Dallas, but still lived in Fort Worth to be close to his mother.
BWDP had another concert scheduled for September, and would no doubt have been featured in the first Dallas Dance Festival, coming up in August at City Performance Hall.
We'll update the story with information on memorials and other developments as we receive the information. Feel free to add your thoughts about Bruce Wood in the comments section.
Here's a video of the first version of I'm My Brother's Keeper:
Here's another video, a document of a 2012 rehearsal, shot by Heather Svokos of DFW.com: