Dallas — Bruce Wood Dance stunned again with Embrace, presented at the Moody Performance Hall June 14-15, and the structure of the concert offered a perfectly balanced plate. Of the three dances, patrons were treated to one work from the late founder and namesake, one from in-house talent, and one from a guest artist outside DFW.
Joy Bollinger’s 2016 hit Carved in Stone returned for the same glorious results. From the opening picture of a group of upstage-facing dancers, hunched over as if mimicking the pillars around them, the choreography organically unfolded with gradually larger movements. Timed perfectly with the music and impressively synchronized, the shapes and transitions grew more complex, but always with a strong connection between the dancers. Seth York’s seamless, articulate solo found breathtaking balance between the pedestrian movement and more acrobatic rolls.
When the other dancers entered again, it was an endless chain of grace, where the eye can easily jump from one artist to the next, yet the viewer can still feel connected to the whole. Circular choreography such as turning bodies, spiraling pathways, and rounded shapes kept the energy alive. A duet between Gabriel Speiller and Olivia Rehrman delivered a poignant moment with exquisite lines and vocabulary, but it was the execution that gave an emotional punch. Speiller lovingly manipulated and refined Bryant through the partnering, not because she’s one to dominate but rather one to cherish.
Bruce Wood’s 2004 work Dark Matter is perhaps the most un-Bruce dance I’ve seen. Sure, his signature choreography and patterns emerged throughout, but the overall mood combined elements and aesthetics usually found separately in his repertoire. It’s dramatic yet still quirky, emotional with random humor, and theatrical beyond most.
The blank white mask, placed in unusual places on the head for each dancer who wore it, was only one of the features that made this work deliciously odd. A volleyball was dropped and rolled at seemingly arbitrary times, and props such as suitcases, pieces of paper handed out like invitations, and a clipboard held by a likely important person gave the dance more of a narrative structure. Sergei Prokofiev’s music provided a large range of accents and moods to complement the choreography and transitions. It was like an eerie dream where things were just slightly off, and upon waking, only the images and feelings remained, too puzzling for words.
Forbidden Paths, the world premiere by guest Garrett Smith, was a perfect example of how to convey cultural and political commentary through dance. Drawing on the dancing bans currently in place around the world as inspiration, he used evocative poses, dynamics, and vocabulary that pointed to the original idea yet transcended it as well, allowing the audience members to use their own experiences to find meaning.
For example, in the early moments of the work, hooded dancers moved in pairs or trios, communicating with each other but abruptly stopping before actually making contact with each other. While this could easily point to the hushed, anxious environment of forbidden dancing, it could easily allude to the larger concept of forbidden relationships. In another moment, members of an ensemble sat on the ground, their backs to the audience and hands bound behind them. While a mournful Kyrie Eleison played, the sorrow of being punished for dancing in public could obviously parallel the agony for another unjust penalty. The frequent motif of a hand over the mouth shouted volumes.
Smith used a variety of music, including some with Middle Eastern instruments for an earthy aesthetic equally matched by his vocabulary. Although he’s considered a contemporary choreographer, his style for this work had the intensity and dynamics of hip-hop. The dancers’ passionate execution pulled at the heartstrings with the messages their movements conveyed, but also impressed with their handling of a quality that moved beyond what we saw last year.
All of these facets proved my original point about his work, but if that’s not enough to convince, then the ending definitely did. After a forceful unison segment and an anguished, brilliant solo by Cole Vernon, the entire cast lined up downstage as close to the audience as they could. The clarity and power of fervent gazes and stomping feet were accentuated by dancers reaching towards the audience at different times — imploring them to hear and respond.
As with last summer’s guest artist piece (Yin Yue’s begin again), this will be on the year-end best list. It’s also one they’ll hopefully take with them to New York City in January for the invitation of a lifetime.
One of Bruce Wood’s dreams was to have his company perform at the Joyce Theater, a historic venue solely for dance in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. They’ve been chosen as part of American Dance Platform, which invites four NYC companies and four regional troupes to perform. BWD will share the stage with Rennie Harris Puremovement, Urban Bush Women, Limón Dance Company, Embodiment Project, Rosie Herrera Dance Theater, Dayton Contemporary Dance, and ODC/Dance. In fact, the promo graphic on the Joyce website for the entire event includes one of Sharen Bradford’s pictures of Bruce Wood Dance.
Bruce Wood Dance has long been one of the region’s finest dance companies; now the country can rightfully embrace it as an American treasure.