Dallas — Against what will be a backlit stage, Kimi Nikaidoh slowly walks across the space in Bruce Wood Dance’s (BWD) main studio with a pensive expression on her face. Her left arm habitually reaches out to brush across the other dancers’ feet, which are swaying haphazardly as the dancers lay prone on a sloping 32-foot-long 5-foot-wide replica of a hillside made of dense Styrofoam and reinforced with half inch plywood. As Nikaidoh moves further downstage, the dancers start a series of quick lower body exercises, including flex and pointed toes, turned out feet and crisscrossing legs, which they perform in tandem as well as off time. Even without the lighting this image is striking thanks to the dancers’ simplistic movements, which stir up a wealth of emotion, and are also recurring themes in choreographer Joy Atkins Bollinger’s new work, Hillside, for the BWD’s RISE performance this weekend.
Bollinger began her dance training at the age of 7 at the Fort Worth School of Ballet with Victoria Fedine and Paul Mejia. During her time there she performed in productions of The Nutcracker and Cinderella with the Fort Worth Ballet Company. She eventually was invited to the Cedar Island Summer Intensive for two consecutive years where she lived and studied with Suzanne Farrell, who was one of George Balanchine’s muses at the New York City Ballet during the 1960s and ’70s. After graduating from Texas Christian University with a B.F.A. in ballet, Bollinger joined the Bruce Wood Dance Company (BWDC) in 2002. She worked with BWDC for four years while also dancing as a guest artist for Irving Ballet, Metropolitan Classical Ballet and Madison Ballet. Today, Bollinger is an artistic associate with Dallas-based Bruce Wood Dance where she is restaging Wood’s works and starting to make some of her own, including Carved In Stone, which was her first full-length dance for BWD and was met with critical acclaim at the company’s SIX performance last year.
Bollinger says the inspiration for Hillside came from an image she kept seeing in her head of just a slope.
“I just couldn’t shake this image of an abstract hillside that looks like someone just took some marley and squished it from the sides so it just has a ripple in it,” Bollinger says. “And I could also see the dancers starting out with their legs in the air and a figure just walking by and brushing their hand against that.”
To bring this idea to life, Bollinger had her brother who happens to be an architectural engineer help her create an architectural file, which is what the Styrofoam factory referred to when cutting the material. From there the prop had to be assembled and then reinforced so the dancers would be able to run across and perform on it. “So the meat of it is actually a dense foam that weighs between 200 and 300 pounds that we then covered with a thin carpet and marley flooring.”
In addition to the even, smooth look on top, Bollinger also needed the prop to be light enough to slide around the stage, which the dancers do a couple of times throughout the piece. Bollinger explains that the prop begins up stage and will move to mid stage during Nikaidoh’s personal struggle before being shifted to a diagonal, which will represent Nikaidoh’s new perspective on life. She adds, “The first transition will have these flashes of light and as the music changes the downstage will be lit, but the upstage will be dark so all you can see is the front edge of the prop creeping into the light.”
If you had to opportunity to see Carved In Stone, you will be able to see some similarities between that piece and Hillside, most obviously Bollinger’s penchant for large casts and captivating stage design and lighting techniques. She has also taken a page out of Wood’s book with the use of understated movement and silky smooth partnering sections. Like Wood, Bollinger also relies heavily on instinct so that her movement always has a continuous flow to it, but keeps in context with the piece’s narrative and imagery.
This is most clearly seen in the large group section near the end when all 14 dancers run into the space, including three dancers on the hillside, to perform a breathtaking series of body arcs and under-curves, which Bollinger layers with balletic legs and textured arm movements to fast-paced instrumentals. With the use of creative pathways and musical timing, Bollinger avoids the clutter and chaos that generally comes with such large dance works; instead making smart choices that add more dimension and emotional depth to the already deeply empowering work.
And as for why Bollinger decided to work such a large cast she says, “There is just something so satisfying and fulfilling about seeing a lot of bodies on stage. The piece reads stronger with more bodies and the music is so big and powerful, and there are so many layers at the end that I just wanted there to be a moment where everyone can see the big picture.”
Hillside makes it premiere at Bruce Wood Dance’s RISE performance at Moody Performance Hall Nov. 17-18. The program also includes Wood’s Lay Your Burdens Down and The Only Way Through Is Through. This program will be dedicated to two choreographer/instructor Kim Abel; and to former BWDC dancer Doug Hopkings, both of whom passed a way in recent months.
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com