Dallas — When you are only two feet away from dancers careening across the studio floor, your reaction is “ohmigod.”
Translating that experience to the stage is another matter.
But on this Friday afternoon at the Bruce Wood Dance Project studio in the Dallas Design District, Andy Noble’s new work Skin looks quite marvelous, particularly when the dancers are running-tossing-catching-swinging at a headlong pace. Other parts of the 20-minute work are a lot quieter, but the flyaway section is heady indeed.
Skin will debut June 17-18 at the Dallas City Performance Hall as part of Bruce Wood Dance Project’s program. Company member Joy Bollinger’s Carved in Stone makes its debut too. On the safe side, the program includes Bruce Wood’s heady Anything Goes (2006), set to music from Cole Porter’s musical of the same name—and in an interesting coincidence, opens the same weekend as Lyric Stage’s reconstructed full-orchestra production of that musical.
New works are a gamble, but artistic director Kimi Nikaidoh isn’t worried. Nikaidoh, a longtime member of the former Bruce Wood Dance Company, took over as artistic director after Bruce Wood’s death two years ago. “Bruce created over 100 works,” she notes, but to keep the company vibrant there has to be new blood. “I want the dancers to have the same experience I did at having new works created on them. It’s good to have a range."
Although an outsider, Houston-based Noble is a fairly safe bet. Nikaidoh first knew him when his NobleMotion Dance performed a very clever A Motorcycle for Moses at the Dallas Dance Fest last fall. This spring she and company member Albert Drake performed his Storm Front, a four-minute piece that aired on the ABC drama American Crime. Noble also spent two days offering a workshop for the company.
“I can’t imagine bringing in someone I don’t know,” Nikaidoh says. “There has to be a good fit, and they have to share some of Bruce’s aesthetic—which means the work has to have an emotional impact.”
Bollinger is the joker with only a few forays into choreography—for schools and two skits for Bruce Wood’s Mistletoe Magic last year. Nervous? “Yes,” she says after a run-through of Carved in Stone. “But I am not nervous at the moment I am creating.”
The idea for Carved in Store came from hearing a lecture about how the brain works and how thoughts can shape the pathways of the brain. “How do I take in new experiences and be open to new ideas,” she wondered.
The result is a dense, 20-minute-long work featuring 10 dancers and at the end a corps of 20. The influence of Bruce Wood shines through: the movement is lush and complex, hands and fingers telegraphing feelings, cascading lifts and silky turns. It will open in dim light, but for rehearsal we can easily make out a cluster of dancers with their backs to us slowly lifting an arm, slowing turning their heads. They are almost amoeba-like, discovering what lies ahead.
In a slow evolutionary process, dancers crawl and squirm, discover the uniqueness of another individual by the simple act of looking and touching, gently manipulating another’s body into a different shape, and gradually scooping and lifting and running in tandem. “I wanted the moment to be winding and sweeping, but not to be aggressive or violent,” Bollinger says.
Noble’s Skin is even more complex, and simply by coincidence, deals with a similar theme of growth. For “skin” Emily Perry, Austin Sora and Lauren Gonzales are covered in Saran wrap and struggle to get free as Marrory Ketch squirms her way toward them. Later, David Escoto, Brook James Henderson, Gabriel Speiller, Albert Drake, and Néstor Pérez will whip and pull Saran-ropes, sliding them down their spine as though to free themselves. As in Carved in Stone, dancers touch and feel one another, but here they also pull open their mouths in contorted shapes.
Noble has created more than 100 works, and gets his ideas from any number of sources: light, music, object, costume, the way ordinary people move. “Sometimes I work with a composer and develop the work from there,” he says. “At other times, I work the other way around.”
For Skin, he got the idea from playing with glass and light, and discovered the light possibilities of Saran wrap. “Originally, I was going to call the work Glass, but glass is sharp while Saran wrap is flexible. It feels like skin, vulnerable and sensitive.”
After the last run of the dance on this Friday, Noble makes only a few corrections. “I don’t want to see any falls,” he tells the men in the section when they use the Saran-ropes as whips. “I don’t want to hear the whipping.”
In the two weeks after Noble leaves, rehearsal will continue with Nikaidoh and Bolllinger correcting and honing Noble’s piece, clipboard and notes in hand. Bollinger will take notes and share her corrections after every run through of Carved in Stone, getting down to the tiniest detail. She picks up the hem of the silky, gray dress that John Ahrens has just created for Emily Perry, for example, and suggests a different cut. Albert’s costume passes muster. After several run-throughs of the finale she finally has Erin Coudron end up perfectly framed among a mass of dancers who arms all form different shapes.
“At this stage of our company’s growth new works are important,” Nikaidoh says later, “but I don’t want to get locked into one formula. I can see a full evening of Bruce’s works—Cultural Shock would be grea—or one that has none.” For now, this formula seems to be working.
» 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.
» Photos copyright Sharen Bradford of The Dancing Image. To see more rehearsal images, click on the slideshow icon in the floating menu at the lower left of your screen.