Dallas — “Grace, grit, and glam,” proclaimed Bruce Wood Dance Executive Director Gayle Halperin, as she gives her usual pre-show announcement for Harmony, presented at Moody Performance Hall in Dallas on June 15 and 16. As a critic, it’s part of the job to be a bit skeptical of company marketing, so I found these words intriguing.
Grace and glam are the company’s hallmarks, as its late founder and choreographer tended towards works that were either technically elegant with varying degrees of intricate athleticism or theatrical, fun, and quirky. But grit? Not a word I’d used to describe their aesthetic, even with the fierce RED and the intense expressions found in other serious Wood works.
Guest artist Yin Yue’s begin again, however, solidifies the company’s ability to expand beyond their usual sphere, yet their execution makes the work’s unique vocabulary and FoCo technique seamlessly meld with the grace and glam displayed by the other two pieces in the program.
Nine dancers don maroon pants and faintly pink long-sleeved shirts that are relaxed enough to be considered pedestrian, but not so loose that it contributes a fluid essence to the piece. Thrumming, bass-heavy electronic music trades off with contemplative piano for a mysterious, suspicious mood that the performers match with their expressions. Men and women alike adopt a heavy, grounded quality that’s aggressive, yet executed with ease. Their expansive movements are too harsh to be considered earthy, but the technical precision required for variations on arabesques and turns contribute a familiarity, as the dancers present vastly different maneuvers.
Megan Storey and Alonzo Blanco deliver a compelling duet, and various partnerings and manipulations later in the work create intrigue and excitement. Especially stunning is the company’s ability to maintain solid visual precision and impeccable timing during unison segments where the music lacks a strong, intentional rhythm. Gritty, yes, but in a satisfying way that fits them uniquely.
The “grace” in the evening shines with the first work, Day of Small Things, a 2012 piece Wood created in memory of current artistic director Kimi Nikaidoh’s grandmother. Selections from John Rutter’s Requiem create a reverent atmosphere combining bittersweet longing and joyous hope. Deep blue costumes by John Ahrens enhance the solemnity and peace.
The first couple of sections display a welcomed tranquil mood. Sustained gestures, unhurried traveling, and luxurious lines prove that a choreographer need not cram as much movement as possible into every second to demonstrate engaging, innovative choreography.
That being said, this is still quite a dynamic work (albeit calmer), and familiar Wood patterns appear in the later sections, as the pace quickens and the mood rises. The dancers display intricate circular arm patterns and grounded traveling that ends with a series of lifts, all with elegance and ease.
As usual, the company ends the show with a bang, or a sparkle in this case. Rhapsody in Blue, using George Gershwin’s music of the same name, explodes with theatricality and charm. The most balletic of the works, it has the audience applauding from the beginning, as the lights rise on Emily Drake with the opening clarinet notes of the composition. Her lightning-fast turns pave the way for stunning displays of dynamic technique. Equally impressive are the strong men’s quartet and Olivia Rehrman’s playful moment with the audience. A shower of blue shimmering paper towards the end only heightens the picture, which brings the audience to its feet.
Considering all the elements of the evening, this is one of the most varied shows the company has presented, and one of the more enjoyable ones, as well. As Halperin, Nikaidoh and crew contemplate future directions for the company, my vote is for more grit.