Dallas — I think we can agree that Bruce Wood Dance has done an excellent job fulfilling the legacy and vision of their late artistic director and namesake. Most of what audiences see and know of him is his choreography, bolstered by his oft-quoted phrase, “It’s about the work.” Critics praise his ballets, patrons rave, and the dancers continue to deliver his repertoire with the technical brilliance he strived to uphold.
But his mission encompasses so much more than the experiences the company creates on stage, and these lesser-known details were on full display at Love, Bruce—A Valentine Cabaret presented at the historic Granada Theater. The mid-century dazzle of the venue proved an exquisite setting for a radiant evening of food, music, and dance. Guests were greeted with a champagne cocktail as they chatted and mingled before sitting down to a delectable dinner and sprightly entertainment. The event was co-chaired by Read and Steve Gendler and produced by Gayle Halperin and Larry Lane.
This was a party with a purpose, however, so as amazing as the cuisine and atmosphere were, everyone was there in support of the company’s vision. One of Wood’s goals was to have Dallas recognized and respected as a supportive, thriving center for dance. This means having the financial backing and artistic excellence to give local artists (dancers, choreographers, designers, production crew) a reason to hang around Big D rather than fly off to another large metro area, and also to attract those from around the country.
BWD has certainly retained that caliber of talent, as evidenced by artistic director Kimi Nikaidoh’s prestigious inclusion in the Women in Dance Leadership Conference held last month in New York City. Out of over 750 applicants, Nikaidoh’s Bloom was one of a handful chosen for the Selected Choreographer’s Concert at the event. In addition to being recognized at the cabaret for this achievement, the company’s increased reach throughout the country was also highlighted.
One example of that reach was the musical talent for the evening. Composer and pianist Joseph Thalken has had a close working relationship with the company, as he arranged the music and played for previous cabaret fundraisers and created the score for Albert Drake’s Chasing Home. His resume, however, is what caught my attention. Behind the great Broadway singers are the composers, arrangers, and musicians that tirelessly work to ensure that the leading men and women shine. A mere six days before Love, Bruce, Thalken was on stage at the Grammy’s playing for Patti LuPone’s show-stopping rendition of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.” In the mid-90s, he conducted on Broadway for Victor/Victoria starring Julie Andrews.
Brent Barrett took the spotlight as the vocalist for the evening, and his previous work history is astonishing as well, making one wonder with awe how he had time to come here. Considered one of Broadway’s top leading men for the last couple of decades, Barrett got his start working with Jerome Robbins in West Side Story. Since then he’s appeared in numerous Chicago runs as Billy Flynn, played opposite Reba McEntire in Annie Get Your Gun, and appears on the PBS Great Performance’s recording of Kiss Me, Kate. He has bounced around the globe starring at various theaters, and he graced the Granada with playful renditions of easygoing Broadway love songs such as “Ev’ry Night at Seven” and “All I Care About is Love.” Company dancers joined him for “Love and Marriage” and “The Very Thought of You” from Wood’s love, b.
Artistic excellence and prominence is obviously something the company has no shortage of, but it doesn’t mean much with the support of those who have the passion and means to make Wood’s vision a reality. This is where the BRUCE Award comes in, and Nikaidoh shared a little about its purpose.
“It’s presented to people who support us in profound ways by giving to the whole mission of Bruce Wood Dance and helping us pour out the healing power of dance into our community, beyond those who come to our main stage shows.”
The inaugural BRUCE award this year went to Donna M. Wilhelm, a longtime supporter of arts and culture in Dallas. Anyone who attends dance events in the area on a regular basis has seen her name several times, and her drive to enhance the arts in North Texas has led to philanthropic efforts benefitting organizations such as KERA, Dallas Theater Center, SMU Meadows School of the Arts, TITAS Presents, and TACA. The latter bears a special grant arm with her name to fund new works, from which Thalken and Drake have received support.
Her acceptance speech reinforced the dedication she shares with Halperin and company to see Dallas grow into a vibrant center for the arts, and her words of gratitude and vision provided an empowering moment of the evening.
The most touching aspect of the event, however, was learning more about the company’s outreach to underserved communities, an important undercurrent of the evening. When asked how this event differs from the Mistletoe Magic cabarets of years past (which only occurred in an abbreviated version at Northpark in 2017), Nikaidoh said, “Mistletoe Magic is lovely, and we want to keep that going, but we wanted to start a fundraising event that highlights the outreach work.”
Outreach coordinator and company member Austin Sora spoke on the partnerships with Nexus Recovery Center, Big Thought, Dallas ISD, International Rescue Committee, Union Gospel Mission, Family Place, and others. She added, “Dance is so needed, and there’s another side that can help so many people who don’t have access to it.”
Their programming not only includes complimentary tickets and transportation for performances for these organizations, but also classes, especially those geared towards children. Their mission then serves two purposes—sharing the healing power of dance and creating new audiences to further boost the Dallas dance scene.