Dallas — From divine to wickedly decadent, Bruce Wood Dance covered every extreme Friday and Saturday night at Moody Performance Hall. In a program called simply All Bruce, we got a taste of how wide and deep the late Bruce Wood’s aesthetic runs, and very deep it is.
In Local 126 (2001) Wood took a departure from his usual gift for complex partnering and grand lifts: there were none. Inspired by the Fort Worth chapter of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees—the union that represents the stagehands at Bass Performance Hall—Wood sought to create a work that celebrated the stagehands discipline and uniformity.
Simple and clean patterns get more complex as the dance progresses, with dances swinging arms like pendulums with bodies at a tilt, striking poses with feet out in wide fourth position, and breaking apart into well-oiled quarter turns. Clad in dark tops and tan pants, the nine dancers move with mechanical precision, and yet with a surprisingly balletic grace. The two Bach’s piano concertos, so mathematically precise, amplify the clarity of Local 126.
In 2010, Dallas Black Dance Theatre commission a solo called The Edge Of My Life . . . So Far. It’s a tour de force performance by guest artist Nycole Ray: Ms. Ray is a coiled-up, seething caldron of emotion ready to explode, but with great determination, never goes over the edge.
Our first view of her is of her sitting at one end of the dimly lit stage, eyes staring out in the distance, She does nothing but sit in silence, until at last she lifts one arm up to her face. When she does rise, she skirts the stage with long sweeping steps, her flowing red gown billowing. She slides under the table, jumps up, and stretches out on the table that is covered with flour. Huge gusts of flour rise in the air, covering head, face and gown.
At the end, she pulls her chair behind the table, sits up straight, gives one last swipe at the dust, and with great resolution pulls herself back into something close to steely defiance.
A whiff of mystery and innocence pervade Wood’s 1999 Echoes of Enchantment, set to a variety to lyrical and sometimes haunting music. Occupying the same space, but belonging to parallel universes, three couples move with fluid grace as two masked figures in black emerge mysteriously from either side of the stage. The woman in long black dress holds an umbrella high overhead, the man in bowler hat holds out a bouquet of flowers—like figures out of a surreal Magritte painting.
The two figures in black come and go, always walking slowly across the stage. Their solemn presence makes a startling contrast to the airy, willowy movement of the three couples in pale yellow, where the men are constantly lifting and swirling the women with an ease that make you think of so many flowers being tossed in the air.
In one comic scene, the lanky Seth York comes into contact with the woman with the umbrella (Megan Storey), peering under the umbrella. His limbs have a life of their own, rubbery and apparently missing some hinges. In one goofy sequence, he lies sideways like a bug unable to get up.
The mood changes again with a couple swirling though space in a glorious waltz, while behind them Ms. Storey walks like a sorrowful pretzel, her torso forming a perfect C shape and her head drooped. It’s a beautiful image, and so opposite to the joy of the waltzing couple.
And then there is Wood’s masterpiece: Bolero, with its crazy upended chairs in a dim, warehouse setting, a legless mannequin, bored guest stalking the floor if not making a mad rush at each other or stamping on a prone figure’s head. With a distorted sound track of voices and city sounds overlaying Ravel’s pulsating, repetitive music, the action is fierce even as guests stalk the floor catlike. The ennui and sexual overtones are visceral. As is true of all of Wood’s works, Bolero builds to a grand climax: dancers storm forth, regroup, men fling women sideways like so many bag of potatoes, and as the lights shine out at the audience, the dancers calming disappear back to their chairs.
Decadence never looked so enticing.