Dallas — Friday night you could almost HAVE believed that you had stumbled into a famous but well-hidden New York cabaret circa 1950. But instead, tucked away in the Dallas Design District, Bruce Wood Dance Projects’studio was magically transformed into a cozy and atmospheric space to offer a show aptly called “Mistletoe Magic.”
Subtle shifts of light, murmuring voices and the sound of tinkling Champagne glasses set the mood of high anticipation. With tables circling half of the space and a platform for musicians flanking the far end, the center provided just enough room for six members of Bruce Wood Dance Project, clad either in black tie or glittering crimson party dress.
The program flowed seamlessly under the direction of renowned New York music director Joseph Thalken and BWDP Artistic Director Kimi Nikaidoh. Giving the show yet more luster were Broadway stars Liz Callaway and Hugh Panaro—did we mention major stars?—backed up by a terrific ensemble of musicians on bass, drum, saxophone, flute, clarinet and violin. The music oozed sophistication with clever shifts from dreamy lyrics to jazzy riffs.
Happily, the dancing matched if not outdid that sophistication. It was glamor all the way.
After a lively rendition of “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” the music tolk a surprise turn into The Nutcracker, and here Ms. Nikaidoh showed her wit: Eric Coudron, in black tie, became a naughty Fritz creating havoc, only to be summarily pulled aside by an ear. The scene came out of nowhere.
The mood of naughtiness continued with Albert Drake’s comic “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” brilliant sung with irony by Callaway and expressed with mocking despair by dancers switching chairs and slumping over them.
In Joy Atkins Bollinger’s “Music that Makes Me Dance,” Emily Perry spun away from Drake fast and smooth until he caught her. In her “Cold Enough for Snow,” couples wove in and out with their bodies always tilted.
The program continued in this fashion with the singers belting out such familiar (and not always Christmas-related) songs like “If I Loved You” from Carousel and “All I Ask of You” (from The Phantom of the Opera, in which Panaro starred for many years). Callaway gave a toned-down version of “Santa Baby” while in Bruce Wood’s “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” Panaro began on a wistful note only to have Callaway switch gears with a jazzy, upbeat version. At that point, the dancers joined in for some snappy action—knees opening and shutting and straight arms slicing the air.
To suit a tight space, movement was compact and action close-knit. Even so, the signature Bruce Wood sweep and flow and those lofty, easy lifts surfaced again and again, and not only in Wood’s works. Somehow Nikaidoh, Drake and Bollinger—who have had a long history with the company—captured the essence of his style as though by osmosis. And with an uncanny sense of unity, the six dancers—Bollinger, Coudron, Drake, David Escoto, Lauren Gonzales and Perry—moved as one.
And yes, the featured guests—Callaway, Panaro and music director Thalken—added even more cachet and finesse to the proceedings. The meal catered by Salum helped, too. Here’s hoping BWDP can capture this same magic every holiday.
Considering Nikaidoh’s announcement that the company, more than a year after its namesake’s untimely death, has already booked 40 hours of contract work in 2016—which is really astounding for a local dance company—for the dancers, it might just be Christmas all year long.
» Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine