Tag Archives: Albert Drake

Dallas DanceFest Profile: Bruce Wood Dance

Austin Sora in Bruce Wood’s Zero Hour. Photo: Brian Guilliaux

And yet another profile piece for Dallas DanceFest. This features Bruce Wood Dance Company Member Austin Sora! This piece was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Company member Austin Sora on joining Bruce Wood Dance and what she’s looking forward to at this year’s Dallas DanceFest.

Dallas — Dallas DanceFest (DDF) will forever be dear to Austin Sora as this was where she made her performance debut with Bruce Wood Dance (BWD) in the late choreographer’s Requiem back in 2015. Since then Sora has really come into her own as an artist, beautifully acclimating to Wood’s quirky yet poetic movement style and finding deeper emotional connections to his work with the help of BWD Artistic Director Kimi Nikaidoh and Artistic Associates Joy Bollinger and Albert Drake.

“I like that Bruce has a very distinct aesthetic that is consistent with all his pieces even through there is such a variety of styles within that aesthetic. I love that it is kind of a marriage of technical skill and athleticism, but still very emotional and human.” She adds, “His work is also really personal and so, even though I never knew him, I feel like I have been able to get to know him through his work and through people who knew him and worked closely with him. That’s been a really special experience for me.”

Born in Toronto, Canada, Sora moved to New York City when she was accepted to Marymount Manhattan College where she earned a B.F.A in dance and a minor in arts management. It was during her senior year when she briefly crossed paths with Nikaidoh who was there setting a work for the senior showcase. “I wasn’t in her piece, but my friend David Escoto was and he went on to join BWD after graduation. It was actually David who mentioned my name to Kimi when she was looking for another female dancer, and so I came down to Dallas on kind of a trial contact and I have been here ever since.” This is Sora’s third season with the company.

Sora says she is excited to be dancing in an excerpt of Wood’s Red at this year’s DDF, which takes place Sept. 2-3 at Moody Performance Hall, formerly Dallas City Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District. “Red is really physical and athletic and there’s a rawness to it, and the music is very driving. You just feel like there’s this constant struggle to keep on going amongst all the turmoil and chaos happening around you.” Sora points out that in rehearsal Joy would talk to them about the period of time in which Bruce created this piece, which was around when 9/11 happened, and how he didn’t intend for the piece to be about that, but it definitely influenced the work. “It’s very emotional and there’s a lot happening and I don’t even think that by the end you overcome the struggle. You just keep coming up against a wall that won’t let down.”

Sora also mentions the reasons she enjoys performing at DDF, which include getting a chance to perform for different audiences and the comradery she feels amongst the artists backstage. “The dance community here in Dallas is thriving and so, festivals like this are kind of like a celebration of that for me.” She continues, “It’s just exciting to see everyone together on the same stage. It’s always inspirational to see all the different dance groups that are out there. And for growing companies festivals are important as they help to build momentum and create new opportunities.”

» Bruce Wood Dance will be performing an excerpt of Red on Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m.

» Dallas DanceFest is 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2; and 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3, at Moody Performance Hall in the Dallas Arts District. Performances are:

 

8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 2

  • Ballet Ensemble of Texas
  • Ballet Frontier of Texas
  • Dallas Black Dance Theatre
  • Danielle Georgiou Dance Group
  • Dark Circles Contemporary Dance
  • Indique Dance Company
  • Kat Barragan Dance
  • LakeCities Ballet Theatre
  • NobleMotion Dance
  • SMU Meadows Dance Ensemble
  • Texas Ballet Theater
  • Uno Más
  • Wanderlust Dance Project

 

3:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3

  • AJ Garcia-Rameau
  • Arden Leone Dance Company
  • Bruce Wood Dance
  • Center for Ballet Arts
  • Contemporary Ballet Dallas
  • Dallas Ballet Company
  • DBDT:Encore!
  • Dallas Youth Repertory Project
  • Granadans
  • imPULSE Dance Project
  • Rhythm In Fusion Festival
  • Royale Ballet Dance Academy
  • Rhythmic Souls
  • Texas Ballet Theater School

» More information about Dallas DanceFest is available at www.thedancecouncil.org

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Homeward Bound: Bruce Wood Dance Project Journey’s Performance Preview

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Bruce Wood Dance Project humanizes the refugee crisis in Albert Drake’s Chasing Home, part of the company’s Journey’s performance this weekend.

Dallas — Emily Drake tenderly cups David Escoto’s face in the palm of her hand before he scoops her up and spins her around in childlike glee while the rest of the dancers quietly celebrate in the background. As the duet progresses, the two twist, duck and arc around one another while always maintaining their connection through physical touches and eye contact. This marriage ceremony is just one of many poignant moments viewers get to witness in Albert Drake’s new work Chasing Home, which depicts the day-to-day activities of those currently living in refugee camps as they seek to reclaim their identities. The work features an original score by Joseph Thalken, which will performed live by the Dallas Chamber Symphony at Bruce Wood Dance Project’s (BWDP) Journeys performance June 16-17 at Moody Performance Hall, formerly Dallas City Performance Hall. The program also includes Bruce Wood’s Schmetterling (2004) and Zero Hour (1999).

Out of the full 20-minute piece, it’s the duet with Emily Drake and Escoto where we really get to see who Albert Drake, Emily’s husband, is becoming as a choreographer. Yes, Wood’s aesthetic is visible in the dancers’ swooping arm and leg movements and nuanced gesturing, but there is a vulnerability and sensuality in the couple’s partnering that is uniquely Albert Drake. “It is not sexual at all,” Albert Drake says. “It’s sensual in that it’s more about seeing, touching, hearing and feeling. It was about finding those intimate connections between the dancers.” Wood’s influences can also be found in the couple’s silky smooth transitions and momentum-driven partnering and floor work, whereas the dynamic bodying shaping and contrary movement phrases showcased in the dancer’s individual moments cater more to Albert Drake’s artistic sensibilities.

When asked about his evolving movement tastes Albert Drake says, “There are definitely a lot of influences from Bruce in my work just because I adore and respect him. I have also found a lot of connection to his work from my concert training at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts.” Before attending SMU in the fall of 2008 Albert Drake says his knowledge of concert dance was limited. It wasn’t until he took Graham technique with Professor Myra Woodruff that he fell in love with the art form. It was also during this time period that he met Bruce Wood who came to SMU looking for dancers to perform in the first concert of BWDP.

(Woodruff’s teaching methods were recently praised on Dance Teacher magazine’s website by former student Corinna Lee Nicholson. Check it out here.)

“There were a lot of connections between my Graham classes and Bruce’s work, so I never felt as if I was starting over with a new aesthetic,” says Albert Drake about his first year with the BWDP after graduating from SMU in 2012. “And these connections definitely and heavily translated in my first work Whispers. That piece kind of came out of nowhere and so, I definitely played from what I knew.” Since the premiere of Whispers last season, Albert Drake says he has been trying to find more of his own self in the movement. “Dynamic range has always been important to me. Also, suspension, release, contraction, expansion, soft and aggressive. I like playing around with all these elements and I hope this comes across in my work.”

Circling back to the marriage ceremony mentioned earlier, Albert Drake says the idea came from one of the multiple documentaries he has watched pertaining to the refugee crisis. He was particularly touched with a story about a couple that had met, fell in love and gotten married while living in a refugee camp. “I was inspired by the fact that even with everything else that was going on people came together and found items like pieces of fabric and makeshift flowers to adorn the bride and groom in. It’s these moments of hope and of being able to move forward and progress while still living in this situation that is really what this piece comes down to for me.” A wedding isn’t the only communal activity featured in the piece. Albert Drake also brings soccer and the dabke, a Middle Eastern dance, into the fold with movement sequences dedicated to fast, syncopated foot work similar to an Irish jig and rhythmic soccer drills performed by the men.

albertand joseph
Albert Drake (Left) and composer Joseph Thalken (Right). Photo: Brian Guilliaux

After watching Albert Drake and Joseph Thalken converse at the end of rehearsal about the music for the final section it’s clear the two have an amicable working relationship and seem to be on same page in terms of the bigger picture. When I mentioned this to Albert Drake later he chuckled and admitted it has taken a lot of time and mind mapping for them to get to this point. “In our first meeting we wrote a lot of stuff down on paper in terms of content, tune and mood and then we just starting tying all these things together.” He adds, “Joseph and I broke everything into sections with working titles, so there really is no beginning, middle or end to the piece. Instead I created different chapters or vignettes with the hope audiences will focus more on the dancers’ connections than following a narrative.”

<<This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Preview: Bruce Wood Dance Project SIX performance

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Kimi Nikaidoh andShane Pennington. Photo: Brian Guilliaux

 

Bruce Wood Dance Project demonstrates the healing power of dance in Artistic Director Kimi Nikaidoh’s new work Bloom, part of the company’s SIX performance this weekend.

Dallas – Bruce Wood was known for making dances that touched viewers in very real ways. He created dances about human nature, the good the bad and the ugly. So, it comes as no surprise that long-time Bruce Wood dancer Kimi Nikaidoh would draw from her own personal experiences to aid in the creation of her new work Bloom, part of the Bruce Wood Dance Project’s SIX performance Nov. 11-12 at Dallas City Performance Hall.

The work, which focuses on the healing and reclaiming of hope through recovery in a number of poignant solos, duets and trios, was inspired by the emotional rollercoaster Nikaidoh experienced during the lowest points in her life – in particular the passing of her brother and her broken engagement. “This piece is about broken people and the people who are willing to use their own emotional resources to help them heal,” Nikaidoh says. “For me, it wasn’t the people who told me everything would be ok that really helped, but those people who came in and just did life with me every single day. I chose the title Bloom because that word symbolizes what is possible after the healing is done.”

Nikaidoh explains that the work takes place in a room and the individuals coming in are there to help heal those already in the space from whatever tragic event has lead them there. With that said the piece not only challenges the dancers technically, but emotionally as well. Instead of the stoic expressions commonly associated with modern dance the eight dancers in the piece express a number of conflicting emotions, including anger, frustration, sadness, acceptance and hope, which when combined with Nikaidoh’s lovely musical phrasing and unexpected movement choices, tells a story everyone can relate too.

To help bring her vision to fruition, Nikaidoh enlisted the talents of Dallas-based visual artist and AURORA co-founder Shane Pennington. Pennington was a recipient of the New Dallas Nine award from D Magazine and has exhibited internationally at the Paddington Contemporary Gallery in Sydney, Australia and at Sur la Montagne in Berlin.

Not wanting to give too much away, Nikaidoh says Pennington’s contributions have included a stage design and film that present the illusion the dancers and audience are in an actual room. She does share with me one of her favorite projections which is a floor to ceiling window that overlooks a city scene. “We really wanted to make you feel like you’re looking out this window from inside the room.”

When asked what the hardest part of this process has been, Nikaidoh paused for beat before saying it has been figuring out when to rely on the dancers’ strengths and when to test them movement wise. “Bruce was good at knowing when to use our strengths and when to push us. In the past I have changed movement that felt unnatural to the dancers, but in this piece I kept some of the unnatural movements anyways because I want the dancers to always be growing.” One example of this unnatural movement occurs after the dancers perform a series of winding body movements in one direction and then have to reverse the entire phrase without losing their momentum.

 

The choreography is mostly comprised of non-stop spiraling floor work and traveling movement, staccato arm gestures, collapsed body positions and naturally evolving partnering skills. When I commented that the dancers make the complicated partnering sections of this piece look effortless Nikaidoh says, “That’s because the partnering in this piece was very much a collaborative effort between me and the dancers. I would ask the dancers where they wanted to go next with the movement, which is something Bruce would always ask us in rehearsal.” This explains why the partnering sections come across as one continuous line of thought instead of a bunch of static shapes and choppy transitions. One example is when Emily Perry crawls through the legs of Albert Drake who proceeds to grab her ankles as he executes a forward roll landing on his back, which sets him up to catch Perry as she falls backwards. Another example is when Brock James Henderson spins Joy Atkins Bollinger around in small circles as she opens herself up into a starfish shape with her feet just skimming the floor.

You can see Bloom along with Bruce Wood’s classic No Sea To Sail In and Katarzyna Skarpetowska’s new work Klezmer Rodeo at the company’s SIX performance at the Dallas City Performance Hall this weekend.

>> This preview was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

 

Gayle Halperin: Nurturing Dance

Gayle Halperin’s latest endeavor opens new doors for the Dallas dance community. Literally.

BWDP rehearsing in the company's new space in the Dallas Design District. Photo: Sharon Bradford - The Dancing Image
BWDP rehearsing in its new space in the Dallas Design District. Photo: Sharon Bradford – The Dancing Image

Dallas – Bruce Wood Dance Project. TITAS. Dallas DanceFest. Dance Planet. These are just a few of the high profile dance organizations and events that Dallas arts patron Gayle Halperin has helped cultivate. Last year alone, Halperin steered the committee for the inaugural Dallas DanceFest while also continuing on with the Bruce Wood Dance Project’s (BWDP) fourth season after the loss of its founder a few weeks prior to the company’s June performance. Halperin’s drive and intuition when it comes to the needs of the local dance community led to her being featured in TheaterJones’ first Forward Thinker Series in December 2014. Halperin’s most recent contribution to the dance community not only gives BWDP a stable home, but also provides dance groups in the area with a more affordable option when looking for rehearsal and performance space.

“My dream has always been to have a rehearsal space that transforms into a minimal black box theater that can be used for small studio performances,” Halperin says. “I like a space that can only fit about 80 to 100 people and has minimal lighting and good sound, but without all the fancy trimmings.”

Halperin is turning this dream into a reality with the Bruce Wood Dance Gallery. Located at the corner of Howell St. and Levee St. in the Design District, the Bruce Wood Dance Gallery occupies approximately 6,000 square feet of the 12,000-square-foot white brick building. Right now BWDP is only using half of the space while the other half is being finished. The second space only became available for lease this past winter. Halperin says she hopes to have the company rehearsing in the second space, which is 400 feet bigger, by the end of the summer. BWDP’s current space features sprung flooring, high ceilings, a break area and plenty of natural light. “We ended up going with this location because it had high ceilings, no poles and didn’t need a lot of finishing up. We saw a lot of spaces, and it was quite difficult to find a space that only needed minimal repair. We were fortunate to find this corner property in the Design District.”

Photo: Robert Hart
Photo: Robert Hart

The process of finding a rehearsal space started more than a year ago, Halperin says, when Wood decided he wanted the company to start rehearsing during the day, Monday through Friday. “We always knew that if the company was going to go anywhere that it needed its own space. So, last year when Bruce announced that the company wasn’t going to rehearse in the evenings anymore I made that commitment to him to find a place for the company to rehearse.” She adds, “Bruce always said that’s how he worked when he had the Bruce Wood Dance Company. You have to work every day in order for the company to develop a cohesive style and to be challenged to become stronger.”

The company didn’t move into the Bruce Wood Dance Gallery till July 2014; one month after Wood’s passing. And even through Halperin’s name is on the lease she says the whole project has been a huge team effort. She credits BWDP’s Administrative Assistant Rebecca Butler for finding the space and board treasurer Danny Curry for masterminding the construction of the sprung flooring. “This was leap of faith, but Bruce made a huge impact on me so it’s all worth it.”

This article originally appeared in the Aug.-Oct. 2015 issue of DANCE! North Texas which is published by The Dance Council of North Texas.

Also check out the feature I did on BWDP Company Member Albert Drake who made his choreographic debut with Whispers in the company’s 5 Years performance in June.

Loud Whispers

Albert Drake rehearsing Whispers with the BWDP. Photo: Sharen Bradford The Dancing Image..
Albert Drake rehearsing Whispers with the BWDP. Photo: Sharen Bradford The Dancing Image.

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.”

Kimi in Whispers, part of the BWDP's Five Years performance. Photo: Sharen Bradford The Dancing Image.
Kimi Nikaidoh in Whispers, part of the BWDP’s Five Years performance. Photo: Sharen Bradford The Dancing Image.

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.

Review: Dallas Repertoire Ballet’s The Nutcracker

DASHING DANCE

DRB company member Hannah Morris as Clara in this year's production of The Nutcracker. Photo: Kim Voorhies
DRB company member Hannah Morris as Clara in this year’s production of The Nutcracker. Photo: Kim Voorhies

At the Eisemann Center, Dallas Repertoire Ballet delivers one of the most exuberant and technically spectacular Nutcracker productions of the season.

Richardson — Having seen multiple Nutcracker performances already this season critics sometimes feel like they are on autopilot when sitting in the audience for another show. Ballet companies have to find new ways to freshen up their Nutcracker without deviating too far from the ballet’s renowned origins. Dallas Repertoire Ballet (DRB) managed to accomplish this Friday evening with a fast-paced and choreographically exceptional Nutcracker at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson. Artistic Director Megan Willsey-Buckland and choreographers Kathy Willsey and Audrey Rusher Mitts made some bold choices when it came to story development and prominent dance numbers such as Snow and the Waltz of the Flowers that kept the audience, including moi, engaged for the duration of the show.

The dashing pace of the show was set from the get-go. The curtains opened up to reveal the inside of the Stahlbaum’s house where Mr. Stahlbaum, his wife, daughter Clara and son Fitz are preparing for their annual Christmas party. The stage is simply set with a grandfather clock, some chairs and a sofa. The vastness of the space is quickly forgotten as 50 plus children and adults swarm on stage to greet the party hosts. These introductions, which usually take minutes in many productions, took mere seconds in DRB’s version leaving the dancers with more time to show off their bountiful technique, stamina and individual artistry. Clara (Hannah Morris) and her friends excelled in their allegro numbers, performing the repetitive petite jumps and traveling steps with ease. Chaos was avoided with practiced entrances and exits and visually pleasing traveling patterns. The choreographers took a risk by minimizing the grand gesturing that is typical, replacing it with more dance sequences, a decision that in this case worked thanks to the commitment of the adults and younger dancers. The older party goers displayed their intermediate waltzing skills while Morris wowed us multiple times with her far-reaching lines and unrestrained enthusiasm.

The drama of the battle scene was enhanced by the fog machines and the tour de force that is Albert Drake in the role of the Nutcracker Prince. Drake’s background with the Bruce Wood Dance Project added dimension to the otherwise typically flat princely character. Drake also did not hold back when it came to the military-precision arm motions and repetitive toe touches to the delights of viewers. Not wanting to waste such a talent, Drake also makes an appearance in the Snow scene with a pas de deux with Morris which, while quite lovely, did take some of the shine away from the Snow Queen (Ashlee Gilchrist) and Bruce Wood Dance Project member Harry Feril as the Snow King. Feril effortlessly manipulated Gilchrist through the various body shapes and over the head lifts that are staple points of this particular scene. While Gilchrist’s upper body appeared stiff during certain lifts, exhaling while executing movement will enrich her performance. Choreographer Megan Willsey-Buckland’s Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders’ background shone through the Snow Corps’ sharp arm placements and various movement contagions.

Photo: Kim Voorhies
Photo: Kim Voorhies

The first half’s steady pace and eclectic display of skills continued in the second half of the show. Feril pulled double duty as the Cavalier to Grace Ludwinski’s Sugar Plum Fairy. Ludwinski’s slight frame made it easy for Feril to execute the press up lifts and various running leaps sprinkled throughout the grande pas de deux. Ludwinski proved herself capable of handling the exacting partner work as well as the fast foot work and exploding turn sequences in her solo section. Feril’s low center of gravity added extra excitement to his leaps and tour en l’airs to the knee. Other standouts in the second half include Lynnae Hodges’ wicked fast pirouettes in Spanish Chocolate, Bella Rusli’s unnatural body contortions in Arabian Coffee and the whole cast in the Waltz of the Flowers. The intricate pointe work of the soloists mixed with the various rhythmic patterns of the wreath holders transformed the stage into one big beautiful moving picture.

This review was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.

Review: Mistletoe Magic, Bruce Wood Dance Project

Bruce Wood Dance Project. Photo: Brian Guilliaux
Bruce Wood Dance Project. Photo: Brian Guilliaux

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 SingingFalsettosStardustSnoopy! 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.

Photo: Brian Guilliaux
Photo: Brian Guilliaux

Graae kept things light with The Twelve Days After ChristmasHappy 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.