Dallas — “Palm, wrist, flip, wrist, palm change.” “Step back, front, down, up, step, arm, heel, heel.” Bruce Wood Dance (BWD) company members Olivia Rehrman and Seth York say this phrase under their breath as they review the corresponding movements while Choreographer Bryan Arias stands off to the side already figuring out where the movement will take the dancers next. Dubbed the hip-hop breakdown, this sequence of movement is the only time that the pair dances in unison. The rest of the time it’s almost like they’re playing an intricate game of tug of war.
“It’s really quirky and fun, and there’s a lot of partnering involved,” says Rehrman about the duet that I was able to see in its early stages at the Bruce Wood Dance Gallery back in September. “There are no counts so we are going off an internal rhythm that we both know really well. And knowing that the hip-hop part is kind of over the music instead of to the music. And because there are no exact counts we could then find where we want to spend more time or what felt good to hold onto longer.”
As to the relationship the two are portraying in the duet Rehrman says Arias didn’t really give them any direction in that department. “It’s not like we are a couple or anything. And honestly I don’t feel like we are man and woman when we’re in it. We do a lot of back and forth weight sharing and so, for me, it’s more like two humans moving together as opposed to being in a relationship. But I also think it’s up to the interpretation of the viewer.”
This duet is one of three that lead up to the grand finale in Arias’s new work Live, Love, Laugh, which is part of BWD’s Harvest performance Nov. 15-16 at the AT&T Performing Arts Center’s Moody Performance Hall. The program also includes Bruce Wood’s nationally renowned Follow Me and the world premiere of Artistic Director Joy Bollinger’s In My Your Head.
This is Arias’s second time working with BWD. He created My Heart Remembers for the company’s 5 Years performance in 2015. When asked about the decision to bring Arias back, Bollinger says, “The first time Bryan Arias created on the company was our fall show in 2015. I was still dancing and I remember the growth I felt during the creative process. I wanted our dancers to have that experience and I wanted our audience to be reacquainted with his refreshingly authentic style. While creating incredibly intricate and detailed movement, Bryan’s work remains relatable, relevant and freeing.”
A native of Puerto Rico, Arias and his family moved to New York City at the age of 8. Growing up in NYC, Arias was exposed to many styles of dance, including ballet, modern, jazz and hip-hop. After graduating from La Guardia High school for the Arts, Arias went on to dance with Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Netherlands Dance Theatre (NDT) and Crystal Pite’s Kidd Pivot. He has also performed works by notable choreographers such as Jiří Kylián, Alexander Ekman, Lightfoot/Leon, Johan Inger and Ohad Naharin.
As a choreographer Arias has set work on the Juilliard School, Hubbard Street 2, NDT’s “Switch,” Ballet Vorpommern in Germany and most recently The Scottish Ballet. The Arias Company made its debut in 2013 and since then has performed internationally in festivals such as Siguientescena (Mexico), Pietrasanta Music Festival (Italy) and CICC Gala (Copenhagen). Arias is also a 2017 Princess Grace Choreography Awardee and a 2019 Jacobs Pillow Fellowship Honoree.
For many of the dancers, including Rehrman, this is their first experience working with the incredibly mindful and uplifting artist. When asked about Arias’s creative process, Rehrman says, “Instead of having us copy him exactly he’s more like let’s see if this works or is this isn’t working then let’s just scrap it because it’s your duet and it’s got to feel good of you. He’s more experimental in that way, which I like.”
Rehrman continues, “He’s also very kind and helpful when generating choreography. So if something’s not working then I felt comfortable going to him and saying this doesn’t feel good what can I do. He just has this way about him that even when it’s time to finish I feel like I want to keep going because I want to know what he’s going to do next.”
As far as what she has taken away from this experience Rehrman says it has helped her develop a deeper awareness for how her partner is feeling on any given day. “There’s a lot of weight sharing between Seth and I, and so you really have to be sensitive to where that person is at,” explains Rehrman. “Like today, for instance, there’s a part where I put my foot on Seth’s thigh and do like a deep lunge and my foot slipped off and he actually caught my foot in his hand. So he knew exactly where I was and was right there to catch me.”
She adds, “I think just being sensitive to the sensation of your partner is what I’ve taken away from this mostly. And because our group section doesn’t have counts either, it’s about sensing the group that you are dancing with even if you’re not touching them.”
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com
» Read about Joy Bollinger's In My Your Head here