Dallas-based modern dance choreographer Bruce Wood casts a spell like only he can.
While nearly every other dance company is offering The Nutcracker as a holiday fundraiser, leave it to Bruce Wood to come up with a sophisticated twist on warming up the Christmas season.
Wood successfully staged a one-night only, cabaret-style performance called Mistletoe Magic on Dec. 14 at the historic Fairmont Hotel in downtown Dallas.
He smartly captured the supper-club vibe, not only by keeping the show to an hour but serving up a candle-lit dinner as well. And he keenly took advantage of Broadway talent that arrived in North Texas, along with dancers from his Bruce Wood Dance Project collaborative.
The show featured six of Wood’s dancers, and Broadway stars Elizabeth Stanley (in the Tony-award winning Company) and Jason Graae (A Grand Night for Singing, Falsettos, Stardust, Snoopy! and Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?) dancing and singing to holiday tunes.
Authenticity is what comes to mind when watching the dancers alongside Stanley and Graae and a five-piece band on the cozy stage in the hotel’s elegantly appointed Venetian Room. In such a confined space there was nowhere to hide. It was an ideal setting for Wood to reveal what’s currently considered his dream team: Joy Atkins Bollinger, Albert Drake, Harry Feril, Kimi Nikaidoh, Nycole Ray and Christopher Vo.
Bollinger and Nikaidoh both danced with Wood’s previous company. Drake and Feril, both SMU alumni, have performed with Wood for the last three seasons. Ray is a long-time Dallas Black Dance Theater dancer, while Vo, formerly with the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company and Twyla Tharp’s Come Fly With Me, performed in Season 2 of the NBC show SMASH.
Wood has a gift for taking dancers of all shapes, sizes ,and ethnicities and uniting them through movement. He constructs works in such a way where viewers see past these differences. He is a true artist in this sense. A perfect example was the trio the men danced to an orchestrated version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. Dressed in tuxes, shiny black dress shoes and bowler hats, Feril, Drake and Vo entertained with a series of slick hat moves, punctuated hand gestures, and Michael Jackson inspired pelvis thrusts. The dancers’ height differences disappeared as they lifted and caught one another as they glided across the stage.
As Stanley serenaded the group with ballads like The Very Thought of You and My Dear Acquaintance (A Happy New Year), the dancers sat in chairs, swaying and tapping their feet, completely engrossed in the moment.
Graae kept things light with The Twelve Days After Christmas, Happy Holidays and Let Yourself Go. The dancers accompanied him in a few of the songs including the silly, yet well-staged Let Yourself Go. All six dancers performed a series of wrist flaps, head bobs, shoulder shrugs and hip swivels with a smoothness that is signature Wood. Bollinger, Nikaidoh and Ray showed their sultry side as they skimmed the floor in a number of uninhibited partnering moves with Feril, Drake and Vo. The cannon leg crosses and drunken role play on the chairs at the end was quite clever and memorable.
Wood’s fascination with touch was evident in Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas when, one by one, the dancers touched a shoulder or held hands, creating an unbreakable bond. As the song’s lead lyrics echoed through the room, the group broke into pairs, the women placing their heads on the men’s shoulders as they slowly strolled back to their seats.
As the Bruce Wood Dance Project enters its fourth season, audiences hope to see more of his genuine and human movement, and more of these technically brilliant dancers.
This review was originally posted on WorldArtsToday.com.