Dallas — “War took everything away, war took everyone away,” a voice says, setting the tone of Chasing Home, Albert Drake’s ambitious new work dealing with the plight of refugees.
Making its debut Friday at the Dallas City Performance Hall as the closing work of Bruce Wood Dance Project’s Journeys, Chasing Home set a somber tone, low key and yet full of yearning, hope, fear, and yes, boredom. How do you cope in a refugee camp when all is in flux and the future a blank?
Our first view takes place at night as a young boy (Diego Riesco) stands alone, head down, arms pulled around his chest. He slowly moves forward, uncertain and tense, and then returns. Suddenly his father (Gabriel Speiller) flies in, alarmed, and scoops him off to safety.
The ballet is full of such short vignettes, but at the center is a wedding: the ultimate symbol of hope. Emily Drake and David Escoto meet in the camp, and their first encounter is accidental and tentative. Their distrust turns to love, poignantly expressed by a simple gesture: Ms. Drake tenderly touches David Escoto’s face. He whisks her up and spins her around as the others look on to celebrate.
Dressed in the simplest of clothes, loose white t-shirts and worn pants, the refugees make do with what they have, entertaining themselves with soccer drills, friendly chats among the women or a spirited dance similar to an Irish jig. Throughout we see the influence of Bruce Wood’s style: big, swooping, soaring lifts, loose and sinuous movements, a taste for tension and release.
As a reminder of what refugees have endured, a mound on red rubble—low at first—slowly inches its way from the far edge of the stage into the middle until the mound has reached the height of tall buildings. The rubble creates an ominous mood, but the real drama comes from the original score by Joseph Thalken, performed by the Dallas Chamber Symphony. It rumbles, whispers, blasts and moans, with its closest counterpart the music of Aaron Copland. It sets the mood much in the way music does for a movie, switching gears for each scene.
Chasing Home ends at daybreak, the refugees lying face down before Olivia Rehrman gently awakens them, and the day starts all over.
Also on the program were Bruce Wood’s 2004 Schmetterling (German for “butterfly”) and his 1999 Zero Hour.
Schmetterling, set to several Mozart’s piano concertos, was simply a joy, beginning with formal bows and angled limbs, making a turn into the comic, and ending with those signature glorious, high-overhead lifts.
The simplicity of the beginning—dancers take tilted poses, legs out, one arm at a 2:00 o’clock angle, and then shift into a different stance—had a Baroque formality, every gesture so clear it could have been freeze-framed. The comedy came with a wobbling Albert Drake speeding up and slowing down, while his comrades moved like rabbits.
The harsh, grating tango music of Piazzolla and Lalo Schifrin inspired not a single tango step in Zero Hour, but nevertheless captured the tension in sharp, elegant movement. It begins with dancers all in black, their backs to us, moving forward with their legs tracing rond de jambes, and then retreating backward. The movement is even more formal than the opening of Schmetterling.
The dance grows in tension, coming to a climax as men swing their partners upward in great arching lifts, and then ends as coolly as it began as the dancers turn away, backs to us, as the light dims.
» 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.