Note: This preview was written in April after a private viewing of the work at the Bruce Wood Dance Gallery.
Dallas — Unmoving, the nine Bruce Wood Dance (BWD) company members sit on their haunches with their heads bowed and wrists locked behind their backs. The longer the dancers remain in this pose, which continues for about a full minute, the more overwhelming the moment becomes as my mind shuffles through similar images I have seen in the news recently. It brought up the images of people praying outside the burning Notre Dame Cathedral as well as images of those in mourning after the bombings in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday.
This poignant section occurs in the middle of Garrett Smith’s new work, Forbidden Paths, which premieres at BWD’s Embrace showcase, June 14-15, at Moody Performance Hall in Dallas. The program also includes Joy Bollinger’s critically acclaimed Carved in Stone and the Dallas premiere of Bruce Wood’s Dark Matter, previously only seen when the company was in Fort Worth.
Smith’s powerful use of imagery is one of the many reasons that BWD’s Artistic Director Bollinger wanted him to come work with the company in Dallas. “The first time I saw his work I immediately fell in love with the musicality, powerful imagery and incredible partnering,” Bollinger says before the viewing.
Originally from Utah, Smith began his dance training with the Utah Regional Ballet and performed in the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony. He later studied at the Houston Ballet Academy and created five works for Houston Ballet II’s repertoire. As a dancer with Houston Ballet, Smith got to perform works by Stanton Welch, Jorma Elo, Nicolo Fonte, Christopher Bruce, Ben Stevenson and Christopher Wheeldon.
It was only after seeing the piece that Smith told us about the concept, which started when he became aware that dance is prohibited in the country of Iran. “For me, this is the image of being detained,” Smith says about the section mentioned above. “There was a group of seven individuals in Iran that had danced to Pharrell Williams’ ‘Happy’ and they were detained for a month.”
He continues, “So I tried to imagine myself in that position and how extremely scary that would be for doing something that is not wrong. It is wrong according to their Islamic Constitution, but everyone should have that right to express themselves through dance and that is really the driving force for this piece.”
Whereas Wood’s gesturing is usually viewed as light-hearted and comical, the gesturing in Forbidden Paths comes across as more celestial. A prime example is when the dancers appear to be cupping a precious ball of energy between their hands, which they then manipulate aggressively and rhythmically around their bodies and outward.
Smith credits his use of gestural images to his time spent with the great Czech choreographer Jirí Kylián at the Norwegian National Ballet. Smith has also worked personally with Nacho Duato and Alexander Ekman and has also performed multiple pieces by William Forsythe.
Another striking moment in Forbidden Paths is Megan Storey’s opening solo. Her balletic lines melt into contorted shapes and weighted walking patterns, which she breaks up with flex-footed jumps and textured gesturing. Frustration is evident in her expression as her eyes follow an unknown source.
We found out later that the movement in Storey’s solo depict certain feelings and emotions that were stirred up by specific questions Smith had asked the group at the beginning of the process. “I asked the dancers’ questions such as what does dance mean to you? And how would you feel if you could not dance? The dancers then created solos based off their word choices, which I later sculpted into the piece,” Smith says.
At this point Smith asked Storey to step forward and show us some of the gestures she had crafted from these questions. She described an open-chested pose as her moment of discovery and expressed her anger through an unexpected jump with flexed-feet and fisted hands.
When talking with Storey about her solo later on she says, “I based the choreography off of the words I had chosen for my ‘paper phrase’ as Garrett called. He had given us several questions asking us various things about our relationship to dance, how we would feel if it was taken away from us, etc. From our answers, we chose words that stuck out to us and created gestures for each of them.”
She continues, “Some of the words represented in my solo are ‘music personified,’ ‘transcend,’ ‘conduit,’ ‘express,’ ‘angry’ and ‘can’t.’ From that starting point we, Garrett and I, adjusted certain transitions and gesture intentions to then reflect the objective of the piece and that worked with the musicality of the track.”
Reflecting on her time with Smith, Storey says, “It was truly a wonderful experience for me. Not only was his movement and musicality natural to me, but I also loved the purpose of the piece. It really opened my eyes to how other cultures view dance and performing arts, and how blessed I am to have the opportunity to pursue it as my career.”
She adds, “I try to channel all of those feelings when doing his piece and I’m honored to perform this work for those who aren’t able to.”
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com