Dallas — The piece begins with a failure to compute. Radiohead’s “2+2=5” accompanies a wall of quasi-robotic dancers. Or perhaps they are not robotic but confused?
Joy Bollinger, artistic director of Bruce Wood Dance and choreographer of a new work entitled In My Your Head, describes the scene: “That opening section, for example, all these dancers in line, counting up to five, and nothing adding up right, it’s like you see a tension in the them, you see something tugging them another way. You get to the middle, and it’s like a boiling, like an explosion.”
Bruce Wood Dance will premiere In My Your Head, Bollinger’s third choreographed work for the company, on Friday night as part of a triple bill that includes a world premiere titled Live, Love, Laugh by choreographer Bryan Arias and a reprise of Bruce Wood’s Follow Me, which was last performed by the company in 2012.
Bollinger said that the idea for In My Your Head had been simmering in her head for months. The piece combines the political frustration of Radiohead’s music with the anger and fear that Bollinger herself experiences in today’s current political climate — an age of misinformation, corruption, and uncertainty about the future. But In My Your Head is less a political message than it is a political emotion. “This piece for me isn’t about my point of view in politics or my side. It’s just about the feeling that the news is giving me. This is how it makes me feel,” Bollinger said.
Bollinger knows that she always felt this way about violence, pain, and corruption in the contemporary world, but it is only recently that her emotions hit a boiling point. “When I was kid, I don’t know if I felt like this. I’m sure there were things going on that my parents had an anxious feeling about, but it’s really the first time in my life that I’ve felt [like this],” she explained. “You circle around from overwhelmed, frustration, anger, overwhelmed, disillusionment, more frustration, anger, a little bit of sadness — like for my kids — and then maybe thread of hope in there. And then, again, going back through it. And maybe part of that was just having kids. Maybe when I was independent before, when you’re like ‘I’m not sure what is going to happen, but I know I’ll be ok! I can go anywhere! I can live anywhere I want!’ – and now choices have such a weight to them. When other people make choices it has such a weight to it.”
Despite the bleak state of affairs presented in In My Your Head, Bollinger adds that part of her goal is to find a way to carve out a refuge of happiness for the present generation and for the next. Bollinger says she oscillates between wanting to stay up-to-date and a desire to cut herself off in order to preserve a reservoir of peace and interior freedom.
As with most dance pieces, there will be no narration of the activity on stage. When asked why dance is a good medium to express political frustration and confusion, Bollinger pointed out that In My Your Head will expand her repertoire of movement. While Carved in Stone and Hillside, the first two works she choreographed for Bruce Wood Dance, were praised for lush lyricism and continuity, In My Your Head is disjointed, an assemblage of staccato movements that at times become violent and cruel. “You can’t dance pretty and be angry,” Bollinger emphasized. Indeed, a studio run-through of the piece proved dance to be an apt medium for conveying emotions that run from frustration to disillusionment to hope.
The choice to challenge herself to depart the style of Hillside and Carved in Stone was motivated by a lesson Bollinger learned from Bruce Wood himself. Bollinger danced in the company under Bruce Wood’s direction for nearly two decades, before becoming rehearsal director and répétiteur and later artistic director, after Wood’s sudden death in 2014. “Bruce was always surprising people,” explained Bollinger. “…Bruce had the whole emotional spectrum. I’m starting to not just go to what I know or what is easy. I’m trying to challenge myself. I’m starting to push my choreography.”
When I asked her what it was like starting a new project after receiving widespread acclaim for the first two works she choreographed for Bruce Wood Dance, Bollinger cringed a little and laughed. “I’m terrified every time!” she claimed. While that might be true, In My Your Head constitutes a courageous and urgent effort to bring political anger to the stage.
» Before each performance on Friday and Saturday, beginning at 7:15 p.m. in the Moody Performance Hall lobby, Bollinger and Arias will talk about their work.
» Read about Bryan Arias' Live, Laugh, Love here