Albert Drake makes his choreographic debut with his work Whispers, part of the Bruce Wood Dance Project’s upcoming performance marking the company’s fifth anniversary.
Dallas — After watching Albert Drake rehearse his first piece for the Bruce Wood Dance Project (BWDP) Monday afternoon at the company’s studio in the Design District it struck me that Dallas is now not only a breeding ground for uniquely qualified dancers, but also choreographers. Drake has made a name for himself in the North Texas dance community as a founding member of the Bruce Wood Dance Project as well as for his work outside the company, including teaching at Park Cities Dance and Southern Methodist University where he received his BFA in dance performance from the Meadows School of the Arts.
As a dancer, Drake is known for his explosive movement quality and innate lyricism and it was nice to see these traits represented in his first chorographic endeavor, Whispers, part of BWDP’s 5 Years performance June 19-20 at the Dallas City Performance Hall. The work follows eight dancers, including Drake and BWDP’s Artistic Director Kimi Nikaidoh, as they search for the meaning of happiness. Starting with an R&B vibe and then shifting into a fast-paced piano phrase, the 20-minute piece is broken up into various duets, trios and group sections depicting the various relationships among the dancers.
“I wanted to play with relationships that weren’t necessarily just about love,” Drake says. “There is a duet toward the end of the third section that has more of a protective quality to it and has this feeling of you and me against the world. And there are other duets and trios that more about trust and support.”
The blind support Drake talks about allows the couple to transfer their weight back and forth without qualm as they glide across the floor. Their momentum never stops even as the female slides into a split and is pulled through her partner’s legs into a steadfast fourth position relevé. The trios are dotted with dynamic leaps, wicked fast turns and buoyant floor work. A composed backward walking phrase is used multiple times, but the dancers’ changing directions keep viewers on their toes.
“I don’t like predictability,” Drake says, as he explains his penchant for the unexpected. This also makes for some exciting transition changes, such as when the dancers sprint out of the wings or get picked up one by one as a dancer runs by. And in one exuberant section all the dancers dash across the stage leaving a lone dancer to execute a controlled headstand into a series of one-footed balances performed in silence. “Creating transitions is difficult because they have to flow and take the audience on a journey without taking them in and out. As a choreographer you have to find a way to keep the audience involved and keep the whole thing circular.”
The cast is a mix of company veterans including Harry Feril and Nikaidoh and newcomers such as Eric Coudron and David Escoto. While the group danced seamlessly together Drake says it did take some time for everyone to adjust to the creative process. “The first week it was just about making sure everyone was present because, for some of the newer dancers, they haven’t gotten a lot of chances to work in the creative process. A lot of dancers get drawn into a repertory company where you learn old works over and over. In the creation process you have to be patient, moldable and willing to let go.” Drake admits that was a struggle, but once everyone got into it he says they were able to absorb the movement without prejudice and some good stuff came out of it.
It’s easy to spot Wood’s influences in Drake’s choreography. After all, Drake spent more than half his career training with the notable North Texas choreographer who passed away suddenly last year. “I adopted him early on as the mentor I wanted to be around and learn from. His previous dancers adored the man and followed him religiously and I see why. So, he invested in me and I invested in him and it was a great relationship.”
Wood’s quirky foot work, deliberate gesturing and emotional pull are seen throughout Drake’s piece, but most poignantly in the opening section where the four females each perform a gestural phrase of movement that slowly builds in intensity.
“His principles are a part of me so it wasn’t challenging to stay within his realm of movement. The hard part was moving away from it and standing out and not necessary being a replica of him. Now, I didn’t try to stray away from them, but I did want to take his principles and use them in a different context.” Wood also had the unique ability of connecting with audiences on a deeply emotional level, something Drake hopes to accomplish with Whispers. “I don’t want the physicality or the prettiness of the piece to determine how people feel. My main purpose of this piece is to keep people emotionally involved.”
The concert will also feature the Dallas premieres of Wood’s Requiem and Polyester Dreams.
This feature was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.