Dallas — In a dance world full of irony and power, what we love about Bruce Wood is that he offered so little of that. He was the ultimate Romantic, bravely venturing into that forbidden territory of mood and feeling, of love and loss, of yearning for what is forever out of reach.
But he was a Romantic with a modern sensibility, holding back at one point, pouring it all out at other times. Such was the case Thursday night in Bruce Wood Dance Project’s program called Touch, where the opening work, Home, works its way slowly, only to end with an emotional whammy, where in contrast The Only Way Through is Through starts bold and gets increasingly fierce, pulling you along in a raging current.
That visceral effect is rare in dance, sweeping the viewer out of his or her mundane world and into one both grand and glorious.
But to be more specific about the four works on the program, the first, Home (1997), opened in dim light, white silk fabric hanging above, while five dancers in brilliant white dress hover below. Barely visible, a single figure hangs suspended on a rope halfway from the ceiling. The dancers on the ground move with slow, deliberate calm, reaching out to each other with delicate grace. Eventually, the man above (Albert Drake) descends, and the five reach out to help him down. They embrace him and soon, too, he joins in their sweeping, arching leaps and turns as the music, Gabriele Fauré’s Requiem Op. 48, soars and cascades with ever-greater force so that dance and music are as one.
The ending can be read in different ways: As all of the dancers but Mr. Drake step over a long bench and disappear at the back, Mr. Drake is left standing alone. Are they angels returning to heaven to leave him on earth, or are they friends embracing life as Mr. Drake sees death loom? For the audience, the lone figure could represent no one else but Bruce Wood, the ballet a prophetic pronouncement of his own death.
Home reaches for the heavens; The Only Way Through is Through (1998) slams into the ground. To the relentless, pulsating music of Philip Glass, Harry Feril stakes his claim on space with deep bends, twists, slaps and pounding feet. Others follow him, crouching and stamping with pent-up energy. They gather in a line, grab hands and whiplash their way across stage. From time to time, a lone woman breaks rank and slinks in an elegant, leggy walk. When all seven gather again, they surge forward, pounding the floor or else convulsively leaping with heads thrown back. As to make clear that there is indeed “no way through but through” when the group holds hands forming a new chain, one woman after the other tears into the chain and with a great shove, breaks the chain apart. It is very heady stuff, an adrenal rush and a testimony that life goes on.
It would be wonderful to see what direction Wood’s last work Touch would have gone had he the chance to finish it, but even so it had a compelling affect. Moody to the point of being unsettling, it had a mysterious background that featured two walls at different angles, a panel that opened like a screen for more light to flow in, and again, a long bench. It opens with only one figure: Nycole Ray slumped forward with the wall brightly illuminated at her back. She sits up, wraps her arms around her chest and face. She will eventually make her way to the other wall, while others take poses just as odd—one man lying prone on the bench, two others engaged in slow lifts, and someone else standing apart. With the support of a man, a woman “walks” upward on the wall, touching it with her feet. In contrast to this edgy mood—amplified by Philip Glass’s haunting music—Feril lifts Kimi Nikaidoh high overhead and with her body stretched out horizontally she floats as serenely as a cloud. It is breathtakingly beautiful, a perfect emblem of trust.
The program ended on a giddy note, with his Love, B. Who will ever forget Drake in “You Made Me Love You” consumed with agony, flapping his arms, grabbing his feet with his hands and trying to move, lunging, flopping to the ground like a beached fish and flailing his way up. It was hilarious. So was Wood’s take on Frank Sinatra’s rendition of “Love and Marriage” where Erin Vonder Haas (the woman) and Kirara Wood grimly sit at opposite sides of the stage, and work their way closer while still seated on folding chairs. They bump angrily, and it only gets worse. They shove, tussle, glower, pull and scrape, with us the calm onlooker knowing that their expressions of pent-up frustration will only keep them locked in a battle that will renew as soon as it ends.
Giving the show added polish was Tony Tucci’s extremely atmospheric lighting and stunning costumes by John Ahrens and Eugenia P. Stallings.
» Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.
» Read Margaret Putnam's tribute to the late Bruce Wood
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