Dallas — Watching Bryan Arias interact with the members of the Bruce Wood Dance Project (BWDP) during his residency in September, it’s easy to see why Artistic Director Kimi Nikaidoh and BWDP Board President Gayle Halperin chose him to come work with the company. Lyrically gifted and technically original, Arias’ aesthetic looks past the mechanisms of the movement, forcing the dancers to get outside their own heads and thus opening them up to experience the movement in a very raw and unbiased way—a method Wood also used in his creative process.
“Arias’ philosophy is very similar to Bruce’s with regard to creating dances abut people, making connections between the dancers and seeing where that leads the work,” Halperin says. “He’s very interested in the ‘in between’ moment to tell a story. Very poetic—so similar to Bruce’s aesthetic.”
Proof in point, Arias’ new work, My Heart Remembers, which BWDP will perform this weekend (along with a world premiere from Nikaidoh and a Wood revival), explores the mystery and magic of love through various couplings and a climactic group section. “The work is made up of duets each existing in a moment of desire, memory, nostalgia and dream,” Arias says. “The movement is grounded and emphasizes vulnerability and humility. Qualities, which through the dancers’ chemistry, amplify the underlying theme of love.”
Like many of Wood’s pieces the movement Arias uses in this number is musically driven. Instead of focusing on how high an extension can go or how many leaps and turns the dancers can execute in a row, Arias relies on Alexi Murdoch’s lyrics in “Orange Sky” to determine the quality of the movement in that moment. For example, Arias highlights the peaks in the repetitive verse ‘In your love, my salvation lies in you love’ with a sauté leap, spiral to the floor or a sudden halt in the action. Other times he creates his own accents with a contracted torso or a full-body release. When asked about his song choice Arias says, “I always had this song in my back pocket ready to be used. I find it to be a love song to the word, so I knew it had to be a group section, which wasn’t hard to do when it came to the BWDP dancers. They are a wonderful group.”
Whereas Wood was a master of small, gestural motions and quirky footwork, Arias excels in strong lines and off balanced body shapes that stem from the chest and pelvis. The constant weight shifts and direction changes incorporated in his floor work are a testament to his hip hop background and were a welcomed challenge for these mainly modern-focused dancers. “Bryan’s movement is very minimalist with an emphasis on classical shapes,” says company member Albert Drake. “It is also very methodical and organic, but still very precise just like Bruce’s movement.”
Arias adds, “I believe Bruce would have wanted his artists to feel challenged and fed new information through the evolution of the company. I feel my work brings this fresh new challenge and form of expression that in itself fits into his legacy.”
Arias’ innovative style and strong artistic voice are products of his electric dance upbringing. A native of Puerto Rico, Arias and his family moved to New York City at the age of 8. Growing up in NYC Arias was exposed to many styles of dance, including ballet, modern, jazz and hip-hop. After graduating from La Guardia High school for the Arts, Arias went on to dance with Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Netherlands Dance Theatre (NDT) and Crystal Pite’s Kidd Pivot. He has also performed works by notable choreographers such as Jiří Kylián, Alexander Ekman, Lightfoot/Leon, Johan Inger and Ohad Naharin.
As a choreographer Arias has set work on the Juilliard School, Hubbard Street 2, NDT’s “Switch,” Ballet Vorpommern in Germany and most recently The Scottish Ballet. The Arias Company made its debut in 2013 and since then has performed internationally in festivals such as Siguientescena (Mexico), Pietrasanta Music Festival (Italy) and CICC Gala (Copenhagen).
Arias says coming up with the movement for My Heart Remembers was a collaboration between him and the dancers. “The dancers would come up with a set of movement phrases and I then manipulated these phrases and choreographed around them. It’s a sort of sharing that I find puts more of the person in the movement.” He continues, “The work has to be relatable and emotionally accessible to the artists. For this I am creation driven, meaning a strong collaborative process where dancers are given time to explore their own movement through my guidance.”
Audiences can see the premiere of Arias’ My Heart Remembers at the Bruce Wood Dance Project’s 5 Years Performance, Nov. 13-14, at the Dallas City Performance Hall. The program also includes the Dallas premiere of Bruce Wood’s Liturgy and the world premiere of Artistic Director Kimi Nikaidoh’s Find Me.
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com