Dallas — Bruce Wood Dance knows how to throw a party. Led by executive director Gayle Halperin and artistic director Joy Bollinger, all participants in the company (dancers, board members, staff) opened the doors of the Bruce Wood Dance Gallery in Dallas’ Design District for a Valentine-themed gala, complete with excellent food, great conversations, and of course, exquisite performances. Produced by Larry Lane, Dances from the Heart delivered an exciting new aesthetic, pulling from classical music and opera for its lineup.
It’s the second time having their annual fundraiser in February rather than December, but this event (chaired by Dabney and Ric Abel) had a different essence than last year’s, although equally elegant. A larger crowd in 2018 filled the Granada with excitement, and the evening included more presentations about the company’s achievements and outreach. At their studio, however, they opted for a more intimate sharing of talent over two nights, simply giving dedicated patrons (and some new ones) a heart-stirring evening and letting the performance itself attest to the reach and magnitude of the organization.
As with previous years, the caliber of guest artists that performed alongside the dancers proved quite astonishing. Joseph Thalken, one of the most sought after pianists on Broadway, returned for the fifth time. He directed a string quintet from SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts, and SMU alumnus and soprano Alissa Roca joined as the featured vocalist.
Before the talent, the evening opened with a delectable buffet dinner, and the cocktail-style setup allowed for mingling and meeting new people. Then patrons were ushered into the performance space for dessert, a short presentation, and the main attraction. Rosalee Kimple, one of Wood’s longtime friends, received this year’s BRUCE award for her unwavering commitment to the company’s vision and to the North Texas dance community. Her charming Texas drawl and heartfelt reminiscing of the late founder made everyone smile.
A stately Austrian curtain provided the backdrop for a platform on which the musicians played. An open space in front, just barely large enough for the ten dancers, was framed on three sides by round tables for the audience. When Roca sang, she meandered through the dancing area or stood on the platform.
Throughout the one-hour performance, the musicians and dancers impressively navigated a range of emotions and moods among the ten segments on the program. Thalken’s hushed opening set the mood for the next work, some dreamy excerpts from Echoes of Enchantment. Warm and inviting, it featured all the instruments, sounding like a much larger ensemble as their notes and Roca’s voice melded beautifully with the six dancers.
A somber tone permeated the next solo featuring Megan Storey, as she journeyed through pained gestural phrases laced with more expansive movements for a haunting effect. As Thalken hit the last note of the Chopin piece, pindrop silence among the viewers continued as Storey exited. Roca lifted the mood with an astonishing rendition of “Sempre Libera” from Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata, flirting with the audience in a shimmering red dress.
Bryan Arias’ hit choreography from a few years back My Heart Remembers saw new life with the poignant “Clair de Lune” duet between Olivia Rehrman and Chad Vaught. The Dallas premiere of Wood’s For Buddy traveled a variety of feelings with mid-20th century Broadway and crooning classics (all instrumental). The audience burst into laughter with the uproarious theatrical section.
After another stirring musical interlude, Jillyn Bryant and Gabriel Speiller displayed brilliant execution and memorable connection over three songs in Kimi Nikaidoh's All Things New. If absolutely pressed to choose a favorite dance of the evening, this would be it. The best vocal moment by far goes to Roca’s soaring delivery of the popular Puccini aria “O mio babbino caro.” Many moments in the evening likely brought viewers to tears, this one especially.
Finishing with a touch of Broadway, the artists close with Richard Rodgers’ “The Carousel Waltz,” with charming choreography by Bollinger. Even though BWD is a prominent Dallas company, the intimacy of an evening that went by way too quickly combined with the stellar talent in a venue tucked away in the Design District made the event feel like the best-kept secret of the weekend.